Is CCV Sabotaging Ohio Strip Club Petition?

COLUMBUS, Oh. - Phil Burress's Citizens for Community Values (CCV) has put out a press release claiming that the pro-adult Citizens for Community Standards (CCS) is misrepresenting itself to potential signers of CCS's petition to place the censorious SB 16 on November's ballot ... but there may be reason to believe that CCV has been playing fast and loose with the truth.

CCV's vice president for public policy, David Miller, charged that "some Ohioans who favor recently enacted regulations on Ohio's sex businesses are mistakenly signing a petition that could lead to those regulations being wiped out," quoting reporter Bill Cohen's pair of stories for the Statehouse News Bureau.

According to Miller, Cohen had "recorded petition circulators" to the effect that, "The very clear message of the paid circulators was that their petition would 'restrict the hours of strip clubs.' No mention was made that a law limiting the hours of strip clubs and other sex businesses already had been passed and that the petition's real purpose was to squelch that law," adding that "the only way they can convince a majority of Ohioans to vote down this protective law is through deceit."

In fact, Cohen's reports reproduces petition circulator "Michael Adams" saying to his microphone, "This is a petition to try to put on the ballot for the voters can [sic] restrict the hours of strip clubs here in Franklin County."

That is an incorrect characterization of the CCS petition, but the problem may go even deeper than that.

"The person who did the interview [with Cohen], who said his name is 'Michael Adams,' we do not have a paid solicitor by that name," stated pro-adult activist Sandy Theis, "and when I told the reporter that, I was left with the impression that he wasn't going to use it [Adams' statements]."

"I've known that reporter for 28 years," Theis continued, "and I don't know what the deal was there. We've been very, very, very careful, and when he told me about this, I asked for the name of the circulator, because I wanted to go pull that person's petitions and spot-check some of the people, so if there was a problem, we were going to deal with it immediately, and we found out that the guy wasn't one of our people, and then Bill told me that he said he was a voluntary circulator."

But "Michael Adams" apparently isn't the only non-official circulator who's turned up, suspiciously sabotaging the petition drive.

"I was at this thing called the Community Festival," Theis recounted. "It's been going on for a couple of decades in Columbus; it's kind of a left-wing, all-volunteer event, and every year, they have a voter registration booth, and if there's something on the ballot, they embrace one or two of those causes, and we were one of the causes they embraced. So we were in the booth registering voters, and getting people to sign petitions for both us and this other endeavor, and the Gay Pride Parade was the same weekend, so it was a very gay-friendly crowd, and this guy came up to me; he knew all about Phil Burress and CCV, and he told me that one of the petition circulators was telling him that he wanted him to sign the petition to help put reasonable regulations on the strip clubs.

"The guy was suspicious," Theis continued, "and said, 'Well, what kind of regulations?' 'Well, you know, we want to put reasonable hours on them and reasonable regulations on the conduct of the patrons,' the guy [with the petition] said, and so the guy [I was talking to] said, 'Who are you with?' The guy never answered. And the guy had a petition that looked just like our petitions, and he identified himself as a volunteer. So I said, 'Well, where was this guy?' And he told me where he was, and we ran over there to find him and he was gone."

But that wasn't the only apparent deception of which Theis became aware over the past few days.

"I get the message forwarded to me from [Association of Club Executives executive director] Angelina Spencer today [June 17] from somebody who had been in Dayton and who encountered a petition circulator who also was making comments about 'reasonable hours'," Theis said. "The guy who met the circulator was one of our guys, and he started asking all sorts of questions and the petition person fled. So this is anecdotal, but we've now had three instances where people who were identifying themselves as volunteers – we don't have volunteers. I mean, the volunteers are people like me; the people out there are paid by the company we hired, or they're working for the clubs. In either case, somebody's paying them to be out there, so I have no idea why any legitimate petition circulator would identify himself or herself as a 'volunteer'."

Theis confirmed this by talking to officials at the company hired by the Buckeye Association of Club Executives (BACE) to gather signatures.

"We've talked to the company on a number of occasions, and they're real professional, very well credentialed experienced outfit and they do specific training and work with people on these things," Theis reported.

She admitted, however, that "I think the inherent nature of this is complicated. We have a law on the books but the law hasn't taken effect, and we're asking people to put that law on the ballot in November and repeal it."

Still, if the questionable "petition circulators" were in fact working for CCV in an attempt to discredit the petition drive, it wouldn't be the first time CCV had been accused of deceptive practices.

"We have affidavits from two of our people who said that in the state of Michigan, CCV paid a former club employee to give false testimony to the Michigan General Assembly for the purpose of affecting the legislation there," Theis stated.

Theis's affiants were Jim St. John, the well-respected president of Déjà Vu Consulting, an organization that works with the Déjà Vu chain of dance clubs, and Joe Hall, a lobbyist for the adult cabaret industry.

"The guy who gave the testimony is now in prison, or at least that's what they said," Theis told "There was a man named Dave Sherman, and Dave apparently worked for Déjà Vu Consulting, and he was involved in what he characterized as an acrimonious termination dispute with a Toledo club. His conduct was subsequently investigated by the fraud unit of the Bureau of Workers Compensation; he was separated; he afterwards asked for his job back, and it [St. John's affidavit] says, 'During one of these various conversations, I specifically asked him about his testimony in the year 2000 before a committee of the Michigan legislature, and Mr. Sherman responded to me that he did not "tell the truth" during that testimony'."

"But the better one comes from Joe Hall, and is a little more specific," Theis continued. "Talking about the same guy, he says, 'During those various conversations, Mr. Sherman stated to me that his testimony before the legislative committee was "retribution for his employment termination by the owners of the Toledo Déjà Vu club" and occurred only because he was paid for his testimony by what he described as "the CCV".' ... He [Hall] further inquired from Mr. Sherman about the compensation he claimed to have received. 'He explained to me that the CCV had "1099'd him" in regard to the compensation that it had paid him in order to obtain his testimony before a committee of the Michigan legislature. I understood the phrase "1099'd" to mean the issuance of a 1099 tax filing to act as a payment of non-employee compensation'."

With signature totals now approaching the 100,000 mark, and just six weeks to go in the campaign, it's more important than ever that CCS target Ohioans who actually want SB 16 on the ballot for a "yea" or "nay" vote, and several of the signers to whom Cohen talked did not seem to understand what they had signed. Theis is certain, however, that the majority of Ohioans do want to vote on the issue, and she and others will be working with the signature-gathering company to make sure its employees don't misrepresent what voters are signing.

But, noted Theis, "The best way for people to be sure what their signature means is to read the petition itself. It may take a few moments longer, but it's the best way to be sure."

And in case there are bogus petition circulators out there?

"We're telling our people, if you encounter this, to look at the name on the petition or ask the person to show you some type of identification so we can see indeed if these are our people or are their people."