THE BALLOT HIDES A BULLET.... Rock the Vote was founded in 1990 amid much fanfare about expanding democracy. Who can argue with making it easier to vote, especially for youth? Artists didn't, and by now over 175 of them have made promos for Rock the Vote. But Rock the Vote is actually a cynical ploy to use well-meaning artists to keep the Democratic Party viable as a catch-all for discontent.

In 1992, Rock the Vote was a critical factor in the election of Bill Clinton. The organization says it registered 350,000 new voters and was responsible for an overall increase of 2 million voters (the '92 election bucked a twenty-year decline with a 20% jump in 18- to 24-year-old voters). In 1996, that decline returned with a vengeance, as young people saw that voting for Clinton meant only more police and more poverty.

That didn't turn off Rock the Vote's new president, Seth Matlins, who got his job not long after Bill Clinton helped Rock the Vote raise $100,000 at a celeb-fest in L.A. Matlins, a one-time marketing whiz at Evian, has come up with the Rock the Nation Award, which RTV will bestow later this year on Hillary Clinton, "a tireless advocate for youth," just in time to boost Hilary's New York Senatorial candidacy.

Matlins says Rock the Vote is moving beyond voting to involvement in "community issues." The community links on Rock the Vote's website, however, take you to corporations such as MCI or to the likes of the Ford Foundation, which for decades has actively subverted any grass-roots attempts to escape the deadly embrace of the Democratic Party.

Just like the Democrats, Rock the Vote isn't a membership organization. Its board is controlled by a cabal of music industry execs who are the mortal enemies of the very artists who promote Rock the Vote. There's RTV co-chair Hilary Rosen, who refused to allow Chuck D to testify against censorship before Congress; Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen, who went to war against Pearl Jam to keep them from lowering ticket prices; and Eric Kronfeld, who got himself fired by Polygram (but not Rock the Vote) in 1997 when he said under oath that all black men are criminals.

Matlins says Rock the Vote will move away from its trademark artist PSAs. Is that because Matlins and the Democratic Party don't want a reprise of spots like Ice-T's? "I'm as anti-"the system" as you could possibly be," Ice-T said. "We've got two options: the vote or hostile takeover. I'm down with either one."