Congress Adds Personal Touch to Fundraising Effort

Whether it's a dinner with a Kentucky congressman and his wife, a privately-guided bike tour through Manhattan with a New York senator, or an original drawing by the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, senators and representatives are giving a piece of themselves to help the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Contributions from dozens of lawmakers are being auctioned by Web site eBay as part of its Auction for America. The auction hopes to raise $100 million in 100 days for four charities devoted to assisting families recover after Sept. 11, said eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove.

Auction for America has been ongoing since Sept. 17, but a special section for congressional items has drawn particular attention for its unusual items.

For instance, Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., is auctioning himself. He is willing to cook dinner for the highest bidder.

Spokesman Ernest Baynard said Honda wanted to contribute "something American" to the campaign, but the bidder may choose any cuisine as long as the congressman can cook it.

"He's also known for his karaoke so there may be a musical accompaniment," Baynard said.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., is auctioning two lunches to be eaten in Los Angeles -- one with him and actor Rob Lowe, and the other with him and actress Bo Derek.

"They're friendly. They are acquaintances from L.A.," a Dreier spokeswoman said of the congressman's relationship with West Wing star Lowe. "The congressman wanted to unite the real capital with the Hollywood one and Mr. Lowe graciously agreed to participate."

The winning bidder must provide his own transportation to Los Angeles.

Auction for America was the brainchild of New York Gov. George Pataki, who with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, first decided to enlist eBay to help victims of the attacks.

"They asked if there was some way eBay could mobilize its community of 37 million users. We decided that the best way we could do it is to use the talents of the eBay community," Pursglove said. In other words, eBay's customers would donate the items to be auctioned.

Pursglove said Pataki asked eBay to add the Congress for America portion of the auction in response to requests from members who wanted to know how they could personally contribute to helping New York recover from the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center.

Pursglove said eBay then contacted members to sign up and participate.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, an avid eBay user, thought the idea was so great he sent out requests for contributions to every county commissioner in his district.

"We wanted something travel related since we are a travel destination," said Jeff Hartley, Cannon's spokesman. Cannon received donations of 11 travel packages as well as more than a dozen other gifts, including passes to Sunbrook Golf Course and two Utah Jazz basketball games.

Asked if Cannon was going to participate in each of the auctioned events, Hartley said no.

"Otherwise we would just sell them to lobbyists," he joked.

The auction will continue until the end of the year, though eBay is only $6 million toward its goal. As per eBay's usual schedule, items are only auctioned for seven to ten days so bidders are encouraged to check back often.

The Web site is also guaranteeing that 100 percent of the money goes to the fund.

"eBay is waiving all of its fees," Pursglove said, adding that all the credit cards will be processed through Billpoint, eBay's online credit card service, to save money.

"All the various credit card companies have waived all their fees," he said.