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Congress gets Hustler magazine, even if it is unwanted

Published February 15, 2006 1:20 am

Filling up the trash: Some have sued to make it stop, only to lose over the public's right to seek redress from Congress
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - The porn magazine arrives every month at your congressman's office.

Tucked in a conservative-looking manila envelope, the latest edition of Hustler goes to all 535 members of Congress. Free of charge.

Not that most members want it. It usually gets thrown in the circular file marked “trash.”

But like clockwork, it keeps coming, despite efforts to have it stop.

The spokesman for Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, recently tried to halt the mailing. Nope.

Several members of Congress have sued to make it stop, only to lose. Something about the public being able to seek redress from Congress means they have to take it, apparently. But that doesn't mean they have to be happy about it.

“It's a disgusting abuse of the system,” Cannon says. “It's a nasty, tricky little thing to do by a person with no conscience.”

The magazines have been coming for more than a decade at least. Publisher Larry Flynt says he started sending them as soon as his magazine began publication in 1974, but an Associated Press story from 1983 has Flynt initiating the mailings that year.

Either way, he's not going to stop mailing Congress.

“I felt that they should be informed with what's going on in the rest of the world,” Flynt says, deadpanning during an interview: “Some of them didn't appreciate it much.”

But, “I haven't had any plans to quit.”

It doesn't surprise him much that some members don't want the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based publication, which he describes as a “humor magazine” and one that deals with “a lot of political and social satire.”

“I would never force a subscription on someone who didn't want it,” Flynt says, except for members of Congress who are public servants.

And he doesn't feel bad that the ones who are actually opening the envelopes aren't the members of congress but young interns.

“I'm sure the interns are over 18,” Flynt says. “Those guys need some help getting through puberty anyway.”

Interns for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, are trained to distinguish the nudie magazine's envelope from the other mail and throw it away, says Chief of Staff Scott Parker.

“So every time we happen to get one, it ends up in the trash pretty instantly,” Parker says.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, says it is offensive that his staffers have to see the publication when opening the mail.

“It's immediately deposited in an outside trash bin, so no one else has to be offended by it,” Matheson says. “It's insulting behavior on the part of the publisher, but not surprising.”

Daniel Weiss, a senior analyst for media and sexuality for the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, says that members of Congress who don't want the mailings should work with the Postal Service to make them stop. And if that doesn't work, they should ask the Justice Department to investigate whether the magazine is obscene and have it blocked.

“It seems like Flynt's trying to stick it to Congress,” Weiss said. “I don't know what I'd call it. Childish, perhaps.”

Others in the sexually oriented business industry, though, think it's a good idea.

“I have to respect his tenacity,” says Tom Hymes, a spokesman for the adult industry trade group Free Speech Coalition. “This is vintage Larry Flynt. And he certainly has a flair for publicity.”

Plus, Hymes - whose group has sued Utah over an anti-spam child registry law - says that Congress needs to have a mature discussion on sexual issues, such as pornography.

“Members of Congress should in fact open [Hustler magazine] and shield their eyes from the pictures and read some more of the commentary because it's not a two-way dialogue going on right now,” Hymes said.

For now, it's a standoff: Flynt will dutifully continue to mail the magazine to Congress, and Congress will dutifully continue to trash it.

tburr@sltrib.com