By GLEN JOHNSON
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 5, 2007; 5:01 PM
BOSTON -- Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who rails against the "cesspool" of pornography, is being criticized by social conservatives who argue that he should have tried to halt hardcore hotel movie offerings during his near-decade on the Marriott board.
Two anti-pornography crusaders, as well as two conservative activists of the type Romney is courting, say the distribution of such graphic adult movies runs counter to the family image cultivated by Romney, the Marriotts and their shared Mormon faith.
"Marriott is a major pornographer. And even though he may have fought it, everyone on that board is a hypocrite for presenting themselves as family values when their hotels offer 70 different types of hardcore pornography," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an anti-pornography group based on Ohio.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading conservative group in Washington, said: "They have to assume some responsibility. It's their hotels, it's their television sets."
During a recent Associated Press interview, Romney said he did not recall pornography coming up for discussion while he was on the Marriott board from 1992 to 2001. Despite being chairman of the board's audit committee, he also said he was unaware of how much revenue pornography may have generated for the hotel chain.
Romney said his current concern is not about pornography per se, but children unwittingly stumbling upon it on the Internet or television.
"I am not pursuing an effort to try and stop adults from being able to acquire or see things that I find objectionable; that's their right. But I do vehemently oppose practices or business procedures that will allow kids to be exposed to obscenity," the former Massachusetts governor said.
Pornography is a lucrative business for various hotel chains. Estimates vary widely, up to $500 million annually industrywide by one opponent, John Harmer, who served as California's lieutenant governor under Ronald Reagan.
Marriott and other major hoteliers say they offer pay-per-view pornography because their customers demand it and entertainment service contracts require it to underwrite first-run movies and free television.
"It certainly would have been wrong to impose his own personal beliefs if they were contrary to the financial interests of the company," Marriott spokesman Roger Conner said of Romney.
Marriott had a contract with On Command Corp. for its television and movie services during Romney's board tenure. Conner said the contract was signed in 1991 _ the year before Romney joined the board. He served until 2001 and was paid $25,000 annually, plus stock.
When Romney left to take over the 2002 Winter Olympics, a Marriott statement described him as an "active, hands-on director."
Marriott refused to say if its contract with On Command was ever discussed or voted upon by the board, saying the directors' votes and meeting minutes are proprietary.
Marriott now contracts with LodgeNet Entertainment Corp., which bought On Command last year.
Gary Glenn, president of American Family Association of Michigan, a conservative group, said: "The Marriott Corporation may be tap dancing around this subject, but a candidate for president should not be able to."
Marriott International has more than 500,000 hotel rooms and annual revenues exceeding $10 billion. While the Marriott name is on more than 2,800 buildings, the corporation owns only about a dozen hotels. The rest are owned by franchises, lessening corporate control over their activities.
Romney, 60, has close links to the corporation, which opened its first hotel in 1957. Not only did he serve on its board of directors, but his given first name _ "Willard" _ is in honor of the hotel chain's founder, J. Willard Marriott. Marriott and Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, were friends and rose through industry together.
In June 2000, J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., the son of Marriott's founder, defended the distribution of pornographic movies, saying they were inseparable from the rest of the chain's TV offerings.
"The in-room entertainment operators who provide our systems rely upon a certain volume of movie types in order to be economically viable," Bill Marriott wrote to Bill Johnson, executive director of the Michigan-based American Decency Association. "If we were to eliminate the 'R' and non-rated offerings, the systems would not be economic."
No all hotel chains have the same policy. Omni Hotels announced in late 1999 it would no longer offer pay-per-view movies in its rooms. Ritz-Carlton, the hotel name synonymous with luxury, also does not offer in-room pornography _ even though it is owned by Marriott International.
Daniel Weiss, media analyst for James Dobson's "Focus on the Family," said this week in a radio broadcast to Focus members: "If (Romney) made money off pornography in the past, is he going to turn a blind eye to it if he's president? Because as chief executive of the nation, it's his responsibility to make sure our nation's obscenity laws are efficiently and vigorously enforced."
Romney linked the prevalence of pornography to the Virginia Tech shooting spree that left 33 dead.
"Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games," Romney said May 5 during a commencement address at Regent University, the evangelical Christian school run by Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson.
"The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool."