Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities

Author:Kevin Teague

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In 1997 Ben Cohen, cofounder of the superpremium ice cream company Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., was shocked to learn that Congress had decreased spending on social programs but had increased the Pentagon's defense budget. The following year Cohen founded Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to transferring 15 percent of the $281 billion defense budget into educational funding. By 1999 he had mobilized more than 500 BLSP members, which included corporate executives, retired generals and admirals, and celebrities. Hoping to make education funding the key issue of the 2000 presidential elections and compel the next U.S. president to transfer money away from defense and into education, BLSP released its "Move Our Money" campaign.

The ad agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. worked pro bono to create one television spot, one radio spot, and four print ads for the campaign. The radio and television spots featured Jack Shanahan, a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy, who explained that even though America had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, the U.S. government was still building more. Shanahan explained that the government could allocate a small fraction of its defense budget to help improve America's education system without compromising the country's defense. Print ads created by Hill, Holliday's creative directors Dave Gardiner and Joe Berkeley featured provocative copy, such as "No wonder our bombs are smarter than our students." The campaign ran from December 1999 to January 2000 to target the New Hampshire and Iowa primary elections. It resurfaced in September 2000 to target the general electorate before the presidential election.

The campaign garnered a plethora of ad industry accolades, winning, for example, the Newspaper category at the 2001 International ANDY Awards. According to BLSP, polls tracking public opinion in Des Moines, Iowa, showed that support for shifting 15 percent of the defense budget to education jumped from 45 percent to 72 percent by the Iowa primary's completion. Unfortunately for BLSP, George W. Bush, who won the 2000 presidential election, supported an increase in military spending.


Even though Cohen still served on Ben & Jerry's board of directors in the late 1990s, he was no longer responsible for the business's daily operations. The extra time allowed the entrepreneur to channel his energy into social issues. After he learned of Congress's plans to balance the national budget by cutting back on social programs to

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Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. © Shaun Heasley/Reuters/Corbis. increase the Pentagon's defense budget, Cohen rallied support for shifting the country's spending priorities. "Congress had added nine billion more onto the military budget than the Pentagon had even requested," Cohen said in America's Graphic Design Magazine. "And they were going to slip it by in the middle of the night, at the very end of the legislative session."

Cohen established BLSP to mobilize America's business leaders, celebrities, and retired military personnel to help shift 15 percent of the Pentagon's defense budget to education funding. In April 1999 BLSP launched a bus tour titled "U Slice the Pie," a campaign that used pie charts to illustrate the federal government's distribution of funds. Inflatable pie charts, cookies with pie charts in their frosting, and ballpoint pens with pie chart banners were dispensed at political rallies during the 20 months preceding the 2000 presidential election. BLSP was bipartisan and existed in a "pre-9/11 world,"...

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