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Contract With America Underwear Rubs Republicans the Wrong Way

May 24, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It may be comfy and 100 percent cotton, but underwear bearing the text of the ``Contract With America″ apparently rubs the Republican National Committee the wrong way.

Two New York artists who created limited-edition silk-screened undies with House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s face on the front and all 10 points of the GOP’s agenda on the back have received a letter from the RNC threatening legal action.

An April 20 letter from Allison Fahrenkopf Brigati, the RNC associate counsel, cautions artists Marshall Reese and Nora Ligorano that the ``contract″ logo and text are protected by federal copyright and trademark.

The letter asks the artists to immediately discontinue using the text in their work and adds that ``continued unauthorized use by your company will force the Republican National Committee to take the appropriate legal action.″

The ACLU Arts Censorship Program and cooperating attorney Elizabeth McNamara, responding on behalf of the artists, sent the RNC a letter arguing that the briefs are ``a classic example of political satire.″

``Each limited-edition work is accompanied by a statement explaining the message intended by its creators. The combined impression is clearly humorous and obviously meant to parody the Contract With America,″ the letter reads.

``Such a limited use on what is not a commercial product but rather an art work carrying the strong political speech message of its creators, we believe, constitutes protected political expression.″

Reese and Ligorano, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., had 120 pairs silk-screened and enclosed a card numbering each one. They sent 10 pairs, run off as tests before the signed copies, to various politicians, including Gingrich, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and President Clinton.

No fans of the speaker, the artists intend the underwear as a protest against the new Republican leadership in Congress. They have staged exhibits featuring the underwear _ including one in which the underwear hung above piles of dirty laundry.

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