LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) — Concerned about politicizing her favorite charity, singer-actress Jessica Simpson Wednesday turned down a invitation to meet with President Bush, a snub that left Republicans dismayed.
The apparent final word that Simpson would be a no-show at a major Republican fund-raiser with Bush and congressional leaders Thursday night came after a day of conflicting reports from her camp and organizers of the event.
The blond star of the film "The Dukes of Hazzard" still plans to visit Washington Thursday to lobby members of Congress on behalf of Operation Smile, a non-profit venture offering free plastic surgery for disadvantaged children overseas with facial deformities.
People close to Simpson said she declined a request to appear that same evening at the gala fund-raiser of the National Republican Congressional Committee — even after she was offered some private face time with Bush — because Operation Smile is a non-partisan group.
"It just feels wrong," one Simpson insider told Reuters Wednesday, adding that the actress keeps her political views private. "She would love to meet the president and talk about Operation Smile … but she can"t do it at a fund-raiser for the Republican Party."
NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said he was surprised at Simpson"s position.
"It"s never been a problem for Bono," he said, referring to the U2 rock star who has met regularly with political leaders of all stripes to promote various causes, including Third World debt relief. "I find it hard to believe she would pass up an opportunity to lobby the president on behalf of Operation Smile."
Although Simpson"s publicists insisted she never had planned to attend the fund-raiser, Forti said the actress initially accepted the NRCC invitation when it was extended on Tuesday night, only to change her mind the next evening.
Forti said the Republican group had even arranged for Simpson to dine at one of the head tables with House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. The NRCC hopes the $2,500-per-plate dinner event will raise $7.5 million for Republican candidates in the congressional midterm elections in November.
Simpson, 25, a Texas native who started out singing in her church choir, became a star on the Christian music circuit as a teenager and crossed over to the pop mainstream with her major-label debut album "Sweet Kisses" in 1999.
She became an overnight MTV sensation in 2003 as co-star of a reality show chronicling her first year of wedlock with fellow pop vocalist Nick Lachey, but she filed for divorce in December after three stormy years of marriage. Simpson is currently featured wearing cowboy boots and hot pants in a TV pizza ad.