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Italian Americans Charge Free Enterprise Fund Committee with Ethnic Stereotyping

Press Contact: Kylie Cafiero, (202) 547-2900 kcafiero@osia.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. - October 25, 2006 - The Free Enterprise Fund Committee, a lobbying group in Washington, DC, is guilty of stereotyping Italian Americans, charges the Commission for Social Justice® (CSJ), the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest Italian American organization in the United States.

The charges followed the recent airing of a television political commercial by the Committee in support of Thomas Kean, Jr., who is running for the United States Senate in New Jersey. The commercial can be seen at www.fefcommittee.org/politicos.html.

In the political commercial, a swarthy, heavyset man in a black leather coat, is speaking on a cell phone as he looks furtively around an alley. Speaking in a thick New York accent, he warns that "our boy Menendez" is in trouble," as a result of investigations triggered by Kean. "Ba-bing...we need to get the bosses to fix this thing. Like we did for Torricelli," he says alluding to the former senator from New Jersey, Robert Torricelli who decided not to run for re-election after being implicated in a bribery and campaign finance scandal in 2002.

To underscore the character's Italian American connection, the ad is entitled "The Politicos" with the "L" replaced by a revolver as is done in the HBO series' title for "The Sopranos," which uses a revolver instead of the letter "R."

The ad also suggests that the gangsters could get assistance from Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who took Torricelli's place in the Senate. For years he has been a strong supporter of Italian American causes and has attended many OSIA functions and fundraisers.

Both Italian American Democrats and Republicans are united in their criticism of the use of such mafia images in political advertisements.

The connection between the Kean Campaign and the Free Enterprise Fund Committee is unknown. However, the commercial is another example of the growing use of Italian Americans-as-gangsters in political campaigns.

Political candidates tend to distance themselves from such negative campaigning by using and/or encouraging political action committees (PACs) and other organizations not directly connected to their campaigns to do so. The Free Enterprise Fund Committee is such a PAC.

"This ad demonstrates what little regard or respect such campaigns have for Italian Americans in New Jersey, who represent the state's largest voting block," says Robert Bianchi, Esq., the CSJ National Vice President, who lives in New Jersey.

"For many years, OSIA and its CSJ have been vigilant in challenging these negative stereotypes, regardless of political affiliation, but still these hurtful attacks on Italian Americans continue. While some may question the need for us to fight such stereotyping by Hollywood and television, commercials like this one underscore how these stereotypes find their way into all aspects of American society—even the political process," Bianchi says.

The CSJ takes note that Mr. Kean has denounced the ad, but more than that needs to be done since the ad is still running. Specifically, the CSJ would like to know if anyone on his staff was involved in this political ad and if Mr. Kean had any prior knowledge of it. Most importantly, what steps is he taking to have it removed from the air permanently?

The Commission for Social Justice® is the anti-defamation arm of the Order Sons of Italy in America® (OSIA), the largest and oldest national organization in the U.S. for men and women of Italian heritage. Founded in 1905, today OSIA has 600,000 members and supporters and a network of more than 700 lodges or chapters coast to coast.