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Lobby Shop Is Over 21

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By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, November 17, 2005

The porn industry is tired of getting no respect.

Tom Hymes , communications director for the Free Speech Coalition, acknowledges that there's a "giggle and ick factor" when the umbrella group of adult entertainment companies tries to raise serious free speech and government regulation issues. So what does a trade group do to get a seat at the table on Capitol Hill?

Hire a lobbyist -- or a gaggle of them.

The coalition, which has focused on influencing the California state government and litigating free speech issues, earlier this year hired its first D.C. lobbyist, Aubrey C. King , on a six-month contract. Hymes says King was effective and dedicated, but he was more experienced in travel and tourism than in the First Amendment. So the coalition recently turned to the Raben Group , founded by Robert Raben , an assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration.

Also on the Raben lobby team for the coalition: Nancy Buermeyer , former legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, and Estuardo V. Rodriguez Jr ., a lawyer formerly at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We were just beginning our foray into federal government relations. This fit is kind of special," Hymes said. "Raben brings collective experience and affinity for our issues."

King acknowledged that "the subject matter, concerns, are outside my area of expertise," but said he had a good relationship with the coalition.

Raben is undaunted by a hot client. His lobby shop has worked on behalf of a variety of corporate and nonprofit groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Sony Music Entertainment, NBC, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.

"I love all my clients," Raben said. "I try to stay focused on issues and not perceptions of the client."

Raben says his team is going to be working on building coalitions with other groups in Washington concerned about free speech and government regulation. And they'll probably be fighting congressional efforts to restrict Internet content and to tax adult entertainment online.

Influence.biz reports that Kat Sunlove , the coalition's legislative affairs director and a former adult stage-show performer, went to Capitol Hill in September, visiting the Senate offices of California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, among others. "We had a perfectly friendly reception," Sunlove told Influence.

What's important for the Free Speech Coalition, Hymes said, is "to have a mature debate about the issues."


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