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Standing beside her daughters, ages 7 and 14, on the National Mall, Nichole Echard Jarman hopes Congress members listen to her pleas. The problem is, they don’t even know her name. Enter Grammy Award winner and singer-songwriter Jewel and former NASCAR truck series champ Bobby Hamilton. Though not lobbyists by trade, they, along with grass-roots activists like Jarman — one of thousands of people who gathered on the Mall for cancer awareness last week — are trying to influence legislators on the issue of cancer research, funding, and treatment. “I want to urge Congress to listen to our collective voices,” says Jewel, who descended on Capitol Hill to rally Congress to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005. “It’s just heartening that celebrity is what makes such a major impact, but if that’s what it does, I’m so happy to do what I can.” Where celebrities often seek out national and international issues to raise their profiles, it works both ways. Politicos and lobbyists have long used star power to sell their issues to Congress. Nobody, it seems, can resist a famous face. If passed, the legislation would end the practice of what supporters call “drive-through” mastectomies, which force women out of hospitals just hours after surgery. About 88,000 women receive mastectomies each year. Despite the push by sponsors in the House and Senate, both versions of the bill have stalled in committee. “Having Lifetime Television and singers like Jewel and other entertainers be a part of issues like this helps draw attention and make Congress likely to act,” says Stephanie Allen, spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who, along with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill. “Any help that we can get to pass this legislation is great. It’s good to have entertainers help draw attention,” Allen adds. The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005 would prevent insurance companies from refusing to pay for an extended hospital stay, and instead allow a woman and her doctor to decide whether she should recuperate in the hospital for at least 48 hours or if she is capable of outpatient recovery. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) are sponsors of the House bill. DeLauro, who first proposed the bill in 1996 after being approached by a Connecticut physician who was frustrated with the practice of asking women to leave almost immediately after their surgery, says the measure’s requirements would help prevent infection and other complications. “Two days of recovery in the hospital should not be negotiable,” DeLauro says. Although Jewel is not close to anyone with breast cancer, she says she was shocked when she heard that insurance companies were denying inpatient assistance. Actress and comedian Mary Tyler Moore, who has spoken before Congress in support of research funding for juvenile diabetes, was also on the Hill last week with the National Institutes of Health. Toby Graff, vice president of public affairs for Lifetime Networks, which brought Jewel to last week’s cancer-awareness initiatives, says using celebrities to back legislation increases awareness that a problem or issue exists. “Our viewers and visitors online naturally become interested and motivated to take action,” says Graff. Lifetime, a television network for women, has been advocating breast cancer awareness for 12 years. The network will air “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” next month, which centers on the true story of Lifetime executive Geralyn Lucas. Undoubtedly, star appeal increases the number of people who attend fund-raising and awareness events, such as the one NASCAR’s Hamilton graced Tuesday night to support the American Cancer Society‘s campaign for increased funding research, says Steven Weiss, the society’s senior director of communications and media advocacy. “Having a celebrity’s support creates a higher profile of an issue and raises concerns about the need to address that particular issue,” he says. But even with star power, if there’s no groundswell of support for a measure, politicians won’t care. That’s why the Cancer Action Network, a subsidiary of the American Cancer Society, sponsored the “Celebration on the Hill” cancer demonstration, making it difficult for Congress to ignore the thousands of cancer survivors and families of cancer victims who gathered from across the country to make the Capitol lawn their home for the day. Constituents are the backbone of politicians, and when they rally behind a cause, Congress tends to listen. “If you’re not making noise in Washington, no one’s going to pay attention to your issue,” Weiss says. “Politicians are on the lookout for groups that are well organized and involve lots of constituents.” But as the fanfare of big-time celebrities fades away and the crowds pack their bags and head home, what’s usually left are the rank-and-file lobbyists and public relations firms that work on behalf of associations such as the American Cancer Society. And one lobbyist says his job is far from being outsourced to Hollywood. “Celebrities are at least initially effective,” says Paul Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists. “Athletes and actors are going to have that star power because politicians are sometimes in awe. But they’re not going to be the ones to call a senator to ask them to meet with you. Official lobbyists provide the knowledge and experience that most people don’t have. After the attention and the headlines, celebrities go back home.” The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group, reports that the American Cancer Society spent $2.5 million on lobbying efforts last year, a major jump from the $540,000 in 2000. About $480,000 of the American Cancer Society’s total lobbying expenditures last year went to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. And the National Breast Cancer Coalition‘s lobbying efforts nearly quadrupled from $100,000 in 2000 to nearly $400,000 in 2005. For Jarman, that’s good news. She hopes the money will ultimately yield a cure. “My mother had a mastectomy on both her breasts. Fortunately, it went well for her,” she says. Her mother, Hedy Echard, is a seven-year cancer survivor who serves as a spokeswoman and lobbyist for the state of North Carolina. “She has had her times of pain, hair loss, and weight gain, but she’s still able to help get national attention for others. . . . We’re just regular people from North Carolina, and I hope they listen.”
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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