Meet Honest Gil Fulbright — Presidential Candidate
A few years ago I wrote a piece, “The Virtues of Political Theater” (Archives, Mar 2012). I couldn’t find a better example of it than the campaign of Honest Gil Fulbright. He’s a character created by 77-year-old actor Frank Ridley, who was originally trained as an opera singer. His television credits include appearances on “Brotherhood,” “House of Cards,” “30 Rock,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and “Criminal Justice.” In 2014 Honest Gil first appeared, running in the Kentucky Senate race against Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, as an “honest politician for Kentucky.” You can find the hilarious ad on You Tube; “Honest Political Ad — Gil Fulbright for Senate 2014.”
On September 21st, his political commercial debuted, with the usual bland background music. It begins with “Real hard-working Americans are important to me ™ . . . is a tag line I’ll be using throughout this campaign.” He promises to be “a president with the conviction to nod, the courage to point, and the experience to cram buzzwords into everything I jobs.” He goes on, “Ideas, policies, morals — these are things I don’t need. What I need is $2 billion.” He talks earnestly about how he’s traveled the length and breadth of the land, pretending to listen to Americans like you and me. “I only say these things so you’ll think I care about you.” He promises to make education “um . . . good,” to improve the economy by repeating the word “jobs,” and “blablabla something to get votes from women and minorities.” In the background a billboard proclaims, “Glossing over the issues that matter to you.” In the first twenty-four hours after it was shown it had over a million viewers.
Traveling around the country, a large van’s side shows his picture with the caption: “Political Favors on Sale Now* (*Offer valid through Election Day).” Another tag line says “Money talks. I listen.” There’s an official poster, too. Remember the iconic Obama poster in 2008, with bright colors and a single word on the bottom — HOPE? Honest Gil is shown in the same bright contrasting colors, clutching a wad of bills, with the caption “SOLD.” Yet another tag line: “A better country for every American . . . who donates to my campaign.” He’s neither Democrat nor Republican, and his message is completely non-partisan: Give him money. The website Funny or Die described the phenomenon: “America deserves a new kind of the same old politician.”
As satire, it’s brilliant but not exactly original. You can find a similar ad from 2011 from a fellow named Clint Webb. But there’s more than satire at work here. The organization behind it is Represent.Us, and their goal is to have Gil included in the presidential campaign to highlight the corruption that money has brought to politics. Or I should say bought. If you go to website, www.honestgil.com, it becomes more clear: “Let’s be honest, America. Big-money special interests and lobbyists have corrupted our government. So we’re setting out to make fixing corruption the #1 issue in the 2016 presidential race. We’re running Gil in the most expensive presidential election in U.S. history to make sure America’s corruption crisis stays in the national spotlight for the entire 2016 campaign.”
Campaign director Josh Silver (Josh? Really?), of Represent.Us, says he came up with the idea after a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center that found viewers of the satirical “Colbert Report” were more knowledgeable about campaign finance laws than those who watch network or cable news. You may remember Colbert creating his own Super PAC during the 2012 election. Represent.Us also has a website, https://represent.us, a You-Tube presentation, and accounts with Twitter and Facebook, and they’re after donations. The Honest Gil website gives you a comprehensive layout of what you will receive, depending on your contribution, and it’s more than just a tote bag or coffee mug.
$10 — Hope and Change* (*Results not typical. Some restrictions may apply.
$15 — Sticker Pack. Stick ‘em good. Show the world you care about corruption with the Represent.Us sticker pack. Stick your laptop, water bottle, binder, and anything else you’d like with Represent.Us and Hones Gil stickers.
$25 — Car Magnet and Sticker Pack. Cruise your hometown or the highways of America with this snazzy Represent.Us car magnet and show the world you care about fighting corruption. Also includes the Sticker Pack.
$35 — Represent.Us Water Bottle. This aluminum water bottle with the Represent.Us logo will make you look and feel cool and hydrated wherever you go. At the gym? Show those gym rats you care about fighting corruption. At the beach? Remind those beach bums you’re defending the Republic. BPA free.
$50 — Honest Gil T-Shirt. Comfortably stylish and politically badass. Wake up, throw it on, and tell the government to
represent the people, not special interests and lobbyists. Also, this shirt looks good on everyone. No lie. Strike fast if you want to fight corruption in style.
$100 — Honest Gil Hoodie. These colors don’t run. Seriously, they’re high-quality screen printed. Get ready for a cozy November election season with this cushy hoodie featuring the iconic “G” logo. Also features a drawstring hood so your pate is protected when money starts raining from the sky.
$500 –– Corporate Crony. You’ll be listed as one of Gil’s premier sponsors on the Honest Gil campaign website. Flaunt your wealth in style. Show off your very own pet politician for the world to see.
$1000 — Become a Super PAC. Work one-on-one with our creative team to invent your very own Super PAC, complete with a fancy logo. Your Super PAC will appear as a sponsor of one of Gil’s “Honest Attack Ads” during his 2016 campaign.
$5000 — Appear in Honest Political Ad. Our savvy team of writers and comedians will put you in the spotlight in an upcoming video with Gil Fulbright (SOLD OUT).
$10,000 — Sponsor a Local TV Ad. Sure to get people talking, this ad is “Paid for by ______.” Whether you’re a business owner looking to make an impact on customers or a person simply making a bold statement, we’ll run an Honest Political Ad on your local TV station with your name and/or logo featured at the end. Restrictions apply. Details available on request.
I told you they were serious. Ironically, people can donate money to get money out of politics. Or you can simply enjoy and appreciate a rare honest politician, a rare commodity in the political landscape. Incidentally there is an actual, not satirical, honest politician running for president, and he’s campaigning on getting money out of politics. You may have heard of him: Bernie Sanders. I thought you’d like to know.