Unlicensed campaign merchandise easy to find

Merchandise is common in any campaign, but this election season, less traditional gear is taking the streets.

From a store on the North Side to a tent on the South, local retailers are selling products for Chicagoan Barack Obama. Rashieda Weaver, an investor in the store Kilimanjaro International in Hyde Park, says they get their stock of Obama gear from independent makers.

"They're local artists, young people, who are interested and inspired by Obama and his example and the fact that the movement has been passed along to a new generation," said Weaver.

Merchandise also comes from national vendors. Retail giant urban outfitters sells Obama and Hillary Clinton T-shirts, and online sites like Cafepress.com even sell McCain and Obama underwear. At Gaymart in Boystown, the owner gets political shirts from his regular suppliers.

"There are a number of people in the community who are supporting Barack Obama so we took them into the store. Most of them are Democratic rather than Republican," said Shelly Rosenbaum, owner of Gaymart.

Where people buy their shirts, though, makes a difference in where the money goes. Although the owner of a tent at King Drive and Garfield Blvd. claims all his shirts come from the Obama campaign, and the profits go back there, none of his merchandise matches anything available on the campaign website. Rosenbaum was open that none of Gaymart's profits go to the campaign. In Hyde Park, though, the money supports the grassroots efforts of the artists behind the shirts.

"The money that is being generated is not much, but it is being used to underwrite their work so that they're able to attend the various meetings or some of the large, yeah, some of the busloads that go to say Indiana, or Iowa, or some place that he's speaking . So it underwrites that cost since they're very young people anyway," said Weaver.

Weaver says that the grassroots efforts underwritten by shirt sales are in fact unbeknownst to the official campaign. Even if it was, it's not likely that either McCain or Obama could stop the printing of the shirts.

"I think they're probably just glad to see them out. It puts his name out on the street, and that's the big thing that any campaign would like," said Rosenbaum. "As far as I know there's no real restrictions on what can be printed, when you start going into that area of negative things, they might uh frown on that, they might want to get asked but nothing that we have is negative. I mean, some of it might be comedic."

Both McCain and Obama's campaign declined to make a statement about unlicensed merchandise, although unofficially, an Obama campaign employee said the senator supports free speech and this exercise of it.

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