Patrons of two massage parlors on Washington's notorious 14th Street NW sex strip may not be there to make a political statement, but the $35 charge for a half-hour of "adult consentual behavior" with scantily clad women is being used to finance two political action committees.
The basic charge at the "Adam and Eve" and "Paradise" massage parlors is no longer called a fee, but rather a "contribution" to either the Franklin Square Political Action Committee or the Democratic Freedoms Political Action Committee, both recently formed to run the parlors, according to Dennis Sobin, organizer and treasurer of the PACs.
The city's campaign finance chief says, however, that the arrangement may not be strictly legal.
Sobin, a longtime advocate of sexual liberation, an erstwhile political candidate and the publisher of sex-oriented newspapers, took over operation of both parlors -- formally called "modeling studios" and "escort services" -- last month and registered both PACs with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.
Sobin, who has been an outspoken foe of police enforcement of local vice laws, said the income derived from the two businesses -- more than $10,000 a week and a half-million dollars a year, according to Sobin -- will be used to back candidates sympathetic to "heterosexual liberation," to finance a planned voters' initiative to bar police from enforcing D.C. vice laws and to fight efforts by developers to drive sex businesses from 14th Street.
"We're going to make some changes" in local vice enforcement, said Sobin, who was recently fined $1,000 in Arlington after he was convicted of conspiring to pander, a felony, for his operation of an escort service called "Mais Oui."
"If you got money you can do stuff," he said. "We're going to buy tickets to political affairs. We'll have a table for our PAC" as well as contribute to political campaigns.
Sobin said he has already used $3,000 from the Adam and Eve and the Paradise to finance a new newspaper called "Crime Solvers," which features stories about the violent crimes Sobin believes police should pursue instead of vice violations.
"People say I'm a fool," Sobin said. "I'm a sensible fool." He added, "I'm not taking a penny from these places," and said the parlors are run on a day-to-day basis by general manager Larry Humphries.
The names of patrons will not have to be disclosed on the periodic reports the PACs must file with the finance office, Sobin said, because the basic room charge is $35, less than the $50 PAC disclosure cutoff.
Keith Vance, director of the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, said yesterday that the two committees may be in violation of the law. He said it is improper to use a PAC to run a business that has nothing to do with supporting or opposing political candidates, referenda or initiatives.
"If the contributor's intent is for a massage, not for a political contribution, then I have serious problems with this," Vance said, adding that he plans to question Sobin further about the committees.
Last Friday, Vance ordered Sobin to "cease and desist" using the committees as PACs because Sobin listed Mayor Marion Barry as honorary chairman of one and City Council Chairman David A. Clarke as honorary chairman of the other without their permission. Official PAC forms listing Barry and Clarke as honorary cochairmen are posted in the Adam and Eve and the Paradise, respectively. Yesterday, Sobin refiled the forms and removed Barry's and Clarke's names.
Over the last three years seven people involved in the management of the two establishments have been convicted on a variety of charges after federal investigators unraveled a complicated maze of corporate entities that prosecutors said were devised to hide prostitution taking place at the parlors and profits the operators were making.
Sobin became involved in the parlors after the building housing them at 14th and H streets NW was sold recently to developer Dominic J. Antonelli, who associates say intends to tear it down within two years to build an office building.
Until existing leases expire in May 1986, Antonelli's partnership is collecting more than $400,000 a year in rents from the Adam and Eve, the Paradise and the other sex-related businesses -- an amount that real estate experts say probably just covers the building's costs.
Sobin said he took over the two parlors when the previous tenant told him she was leaving. Donald McDonnell, Antonelli's rental agent, confirmed that Sobin pays the rent, though the lease is in the previous tenant's name. "I simply collect the rent for the landlord," McDonnell said. "Everything is done through the mails."