Robert Foxworth

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Robert Foxworth

Priorities PAC

One of the mysteries of the 1986 campaign that mercifully has drawn to a close is the almost total silence on the subject of Nicaragua.

The downing of the plane carrying Eugene Hasenfus, the pictures of child victims of contra land mines, and embarrassing revelations about gun running seem to have had no effect on the electorate.

But one House candidate in upstate New York, Louise Slaughter of Rochester, spoke out about Central America and Contra aid. Slaughter, served in the office of Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo and the State Assembly, went toe-to-toe with incumbent Republican conservative Rep. Fred Eckert, a one-time ambassador to Fiji, on the matter. He agrees with Ronald Reagan about Contra aid. Slaughter thought the aid dead wrong.

In the Eckert-Slaughter contest (which Slaughter won), the issues were the issues, and Nicaragua was one of them. Slaughter, instead of being defensive about military spending, came out strong against waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon - criticized her opponent for saying no to an inquiry into the lost $27 million Congress sent in "humanitarian aid" in 1985 and yes to $100 million in military aid.

Most contenders steered clear of Nicaragua. It was a subject in which a popular president was known to be emotionally involved, and Democrats walked in fear of the "soft on communism" charge.

Slaughter and Eckert discussed Nicaragua in every one of their seven debates. Slaughter supported the Contadora peace process, and took the bold position that few Democrats dared enunciate: The Nicaraguan people have the right to decide what government they want.

Contra aid was not by a long shot the big question in the campaign, but the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America had been raising the alarm of a Vietnam-type engagement, and mothers and fathers of 18-year-olds voiced their fears to Slaughter.

What may have been the most modest political action committee on the scene, the Priorities PAC, formed by Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., and actors Robert Foxworth and Ed Asner had a budget of $60,000. Their hope was to put Nicaragua on the political map by replacing pro-Contra votes with antis. Their clout had to be almost exclusively moral, since, due to the fact that the PAC was formed only in August, they could make contributions of no more than $1,000 each to candidates.

But they recruited volunteers for the cause.

In Slaughter's case, one volunteer was pure gold. He was actor Richard Gere, who was making his debut as a political activist. He was the draw at a fund-raising event that brought in $10,000, and went door-to-door in Greece, N.Y., with Slaughter to speak earnestly about the terror and death he had seen on a trip to Nicaragua he made with Dr. Charles Clements, an American doctor and author of "Witness to War."

When Cindy Buell of the Priorities PAC offered to recruit volunteers, she found that most of the eligibles were already enlisted in Slaughter's corps of 3,800. The candidate called it "the best field operation in the country."

Priorities PAC was involved in some 38 races, and was on the ground in 10 states. In none was contra aid a headline-strength issue. The president in his mad dash around the countryside in search of and in aid of Republican senatorial candidates, made just one reference to it - he mentioned Democratic Rep. Barbara Mikulski's failure to support the rebels as another reason to vote against her in the Maryland Senate race.[1]

DSA potential donors list

On January 21, 1992 Steve Tarzynski, National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America, wrote a letter to "Harold" (probably Harold Meyerson).

"Following is the list of possible major donors I can think of to pledge support for Trish and our program in southern California. Additions and comments sorely needed."

Question marks in original list.[2]

Los Angeles DSA potential donors list

On July 26 1992 California Democratic Socialists of America leader Steve Tarzynski wrote a draft "major donor letter" for Southern California DSA, inviting donors to join the Upton Sinclair Club of DSA[3]

We know you have been generous in supporting DSA's important work in the past. We'd like to develop a core of at least twelve people who will pledge 1,000 annually to keep our Organization working for Southern California DSA. We invite you to be one of those people. This select group of members and friends would have a key role in rebuilding a democratic left opposition in California.
This unique group of individuals would form the "Upton Sinclair Club" which will act in an advisory role meeting with the Southern California DSA leadership at an annual brunch. Sinclair Club members will receive a quarterly bulletin reporting on Southern California DSA's progress, and will have an opportunity to meet international DSA spokespeople and international guest speakers in more intimate small group settings. Admission to all local, statewide, and national DSA events in the Southern California would be complimentary with membership in the Sinclair Club.

The draft was accompanied by a "List of Potential major donors to DSA"



  1. Nicaragua? Contenders Steered Clear Of Subject In Elections,, BY MARY MCGRORY Posted: November 07, 1986]
  2. January 21, 1992 Steve Tarzynski, letter to "Harold", Tarzynski papers Southern California for Social Change
  3. Steve Tarzynski DSA major donor letter draft July 26, 1992, Tarzynski papers, Southern California Library for Social Change