The anti-poverty campaign of U2 frontman Bono is promoting a $30 million effort to pressure Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to make the oft-forgotten issue a priority.
Dubbed ONE Vote '08, the bipartisan political push aims to get President Bush's successor to commit to taking concrete steps in the first 100 days to combat hunger and disease while improving access to education and water across the globe.
"If we really are going to change the mind-set of our political leaders we've got to make sure that the next person who sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue understands the global health and global poverty emergencies," said Susan McCue, president and chief executive of ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.
Created in 2004 by rocker Bono, the ONE organization counts 2.5 million members from across the political spectrum and all 50 states. Until now, the focus has been on raising awareness of global poverty and encouraging activists to lobby Congress to devote more money to the cause.
Now, the mission will include mobilizing activists to pressure the 18 or more presidential aspirants through the media and grass-roots work.
ONE's foray into politics is being co-chaired by former Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., with a formal announcement on Monday. Among the donors: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Unlikely political bedfellows, Frist and Daschle said the campaign is unique because of its broad bipartisanship, the scope of the grass-roots mobilization and the early focus on getting candidates up to speed on the issue before policy agendas are formed.
"We believe very strongly that there shouldn't be a Democratic position or a Republican position on global poverty and global health," Daschle said.
Added Frist: "This is not your typical lobbying effort. The issue is always No. 4th or 5th on people's list but is never first."
For months, scores of volunteers wearing black-and-white ONE T-shirts and carrying placards have been attending presidential debates and some campaign events by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and other Democrats, as well as Republicans such as John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Activity will only increase in the coming months, with town-hall-style events, mailings, a celebrity bus tour and TV advertisements.
For now, the focus is on the early primary states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But the effort eventually will be expanded to the more than dozen states holding contests on Feb. 5, and will continue through the general election.
In the fall, the group will ask candidates to sign a pledge and embrace a platform that lays out concrete steps to:
- Fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
- Improve child and maternal health.
- Increase access to basic education, particularly for girls.
- Provide access to clean water and sanitation.
- Reduce by half the number of people worldwide who suffer from hunger.
"Wherever the candidates are we'll be," McCue said. "We have to demonstrate it's in their benefit to talk about these issues."