PORTLAND, Maine — A bipartisan campaign famously headed by rock singer Bono and focused on preserving U.S. foreign aid to impoverished countries began courting the three leading candidates to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe on Tuesday night in Portland.
Mike Salamon, East Coast Field Organizer for the ONE campaign, said during a state campaign launch at the Maine Historical Society office on Congress Street that he has met with representatives for the campaigns of independent former Gov. Angus King and Cape Elizabeth Democrat Cynthia Dill, and that he is still attempting to schedule a meeting with Republican Charlie Summers.
Dill and several members of her campaign were among those in attendance at the event Tuesday, while a representative of the King campaign attended as well.
“We want to make sure whoever is elected as Maine’s next U.S. senator supports ONE’s idea that combating poverty and disease around the world is not only smart policy, but good politics,” Salamon said.
Salamon said the ONE campaign has about 8,100 members already in the state of Maine, and said the group hopes to make its presence felt during the senate campaign, which has attracted nationwide attention in a year when the balance of political power in the chamber is at stake. Salamon distributed free black T-shirts bearing the circular ONE logo, and encouraged supporters to wear them to political rallies around the state to illustrate popular support for the organization’s mission.
He also urged attendees to take part in a ONE postcard-sending campaign to help spread the word, but said the group is not seeking financial donations.
“We’re not a fundraising organization,” Salamon said. “You’ll never see an email from us asking for a donation.”
That’s because the 10-year-old ONE campaign is backed by wealthy benefactors and charitable organizations, most significantly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he said.
Bono, the humanitarian singer of the Irish band U2, is most widely associated with the ONE campaign and still plays an active role on its board of directors, Salamon said.
“He’s on the board of directors and he’s our co-founder, so he’s very important to us,” Salamon said. “He got us going, but what keeps us going strong are our 3 million members worldwide.”
The group’s goal is to “change the way this issue [of foreign aid] is viewed,” he said, shifting from being characterized as a “charity” to being thought of as “sound policy” that benefits the United States as much as the countries receiving the aid.
Putting currently underdeveloped countries on stronger financial footing promises to create new trade partners for U.S. exporters and reduces the incentives for foreign villagers or farmers to seek stability through well-funded terrorist organizations, Salamon said.
“We can’t let people fall into desperation,” he said. “That’s what breeds violence and extremism. It’s not just fanatical idealism.”
Salamon also said that while some in the U.S. House and Senate view foreign aid as “an easy place to make cuts and save money,” support for foreign aid is not a strictly partisan issue. He noted that Republican President George W. Bush was a strong supporter of AIDS and malaria reduction programs, and that current Democratic President Barack Obama has backed the ONE campaign’s mission as well.
National co-chairs of the 2012 ONE Vote campaign include former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle as well as former Republican governor of Arkansas and current Fox News talk show host Mike Huckabee.
“On our national advisory committee we’ve got MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts,” Salamon said. “Those guys don’t agree on anything, but they both get behind this.”
Dill and members of her campaign in attendance took home signature ONE campaign T-shirts.
“What really resonates with me is approaching foreign policy in a way that’s focused on reducing poverty and infectious disease, rather than primarily our military presence,” Dill told the Bangor Daily News. “Dealing with poverty and disease will help reduce the future need for military interventions.”