The Constant Charmer

The inside story of how the world's biggest rock star mastered the political game and persuaded the world's leaders to take on global poverty. And he's not done yet

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Then in 1997 he received a brief from a development advocate, Jamie Drummond, that pointed out that although Live Aid raised $200 million, Ethiopia alone paid $500 million in annual debt service to the world's lending institutions. After contacting Drummond, Bono signed on as a spokesman for Jubilee 2000, a church-based campaign born in England that asked governments to use the millennium as an occasion to cancel Third World debt. Bono, who spends most of his nontouring time in Dublin with Hewson and their four children, started flying to Washington for weekends at the World Bank with his friend Bobby Shriver, a son of Eunice and Sargent Shriver. Eventually, Bono's education was taken over by economist Jeffrey Sachs. After Bono's understanding of the issue went from fluency to mastery, he started speaking out, lobbying Bill Clinton's Administration to make debt relief a core aim of U.S. policy toward the developing world. It worked: midway through his presidency, Clinton agreed to erase $6 billion in debt.

Bono was very pleased with himself until he learned that he hadn't actually accomplished anything. Congress hadn't signed off. "When I first arrived in Washington," says Bono, "I asked, Who's Elvis here? Who do I have to speak to to change the world? Then I find out that even though the President says yes and even though he speaks with a twang, he's not Elvis. Congress is Elvis in America. No, Congress is Colonel Parker."

Through Shriver's brother-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bono met Ohio Republican John Kasich, a fiscal conservative known for his love of jam bands. "Our first rabbi on the right" is how Bono describes Kasich. Still, it took dozens of visits to the Hill for Bono to gain influence. At first, even Democrats wouldn't clear their schedules. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi offered some time while she waited for a flight at the mordantly depressing Dulles Airport. "In a short period, I saw a depth of knowledge that was hugely impressive and a depth of commitment to match," says Pelosi. "I mean, he came to Dulles." Republicans tended to be more skeptical, so Bono courted their staff members, most of whom were his age or younger and had grown up loving U2. "Washington is very hierarchical," he says. "It's all principal-to-principal meetings, but I'm from rock 'n' roll. If I want to have a drink with someone, they sound interesting, they're fun, I'm going to have a drink."

At that point, Bono was relying on an improvised staff of Drummond and Lucy Matthew, another Brit from the nonprofit world, who would meet him wherever U2 was playing and open a policy desk at the local Kinko's. "He told us he was in this cause for life," says Matthew, "and it was time to become a real organization." Bob Geldof, one of Bono's closest friends, came up with the name DATA, a double acronym meant to position the group as a nexus between the nonprofit development world (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa) and the results-oriented political world (democracy, accountability, transparency in Africa.) The name was also directed inward: no wishful thinking, just facts in all their nasty complexity.

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