Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Some awards come with a big price

Dr. Thomas C. McDaniel has been practicing medicine for nearly five decades.

He has treated thousands of patients in the Cincinnati area. He has written books, and he has trained other doctors.

So when the 88-year-oldsurgeon and doctor of osteopathic medicine learned in a letter that the National Republican Congressional Committee had nominated him to be its "Physician of the Year," he was flattered.

When he opened a similar letter claiming the same group had nominated him as "Businessman of the Year," he was puzzled. Aside from his practice in Carthage, he owns no business.

The letters called Dr. McDaniel honorary chairman of the committee's Business Advisory Council and Physicians' Advisory Board. Dr. McDaniel said he'd never heard of either and didn't know he was a member.

An award's cost

The notification letters instructed him to call a toll-free number to find out more.

What he learned, he said, was that the honor apparently comes with a price.

A woman who answered the phone said it would "look bad" if he didn't pay his dues for an organization that was giving him an award, he said. She told him she was not seeking to raise funds for the Republican Party.

But she did request his credit card number and suggested he pay $1,000. When he demurred, she suggested $500, then $365, he said.

He said he asked to whom to make out a check, but she argued against it, saying a credit card transfer was more convenient. She wouldn't give him an address.

He hung up.

Dr. McDaniel said he was mildly miffed.

"I'm flattered to be considered a physician of the year, but I don't know why I would be," he said.

"And I'm certain I'm not the only one. ... I don't know that I qualify as a businessman of the year."

I dialed the phone number provided on both letters and was told by a woman who wouldn't identify herself that the doctor misunderstood. He didn't have to pay any money to receive the awards.

Then she referred me to someone in the National Republican Congressional Committee's communications department. Eventually, I reached someone who said he used to be a spokesman for the organization but left it in November.

Political pitches

The committee is a legitimate organization. And it does send letters like the ones that Dr. McDaniel received, the former spokesman said. The committee is the Republican Party's chief fund raiser for electing GOP candidates to the U.S. House. In the 2001-02 election cycle, the organization raised more than $157.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.I tried reaching two congressmen and two other communications officials connected with the group, but I was told they couldn't be reached because of the holidays.

Thanks to organizations like Publishers Clearinghouse, most people are immune to the claim "You may already be a winner."

Enough consumers have complained about questionable marketing ploys that even politicians - on both sides of the political aisles - have publicly chastised suspicious marketers.

Yet the practice goes on, presumably because it works.

Though various states' attorneys general, including Ohio's and Kentucky's, have warned consumers not to, people still give their credit card information to strangers over the telephone. And companies and fund-raising outfits stay in business.

But Dr. McDaniel, who says he'll continue to contribute to Republican campaigns, urges people to be cautious.

Offer to write a check instead, he said.

E-mail or phone 768-8395.


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