Sunday, December 15, 2002

Anti-porn crusader takes fight to hotels


Burress pushes prosecutors to investigate adult movies

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Phil Burress says he saved himself from pornography. Now, he and the increasingly influential group he leads want to save you, too.

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Phil Burress and his wife, Vickie, at CCV headquarters. Pushpins on the Tristate map locate what CCV considers sexually-oriented businesses.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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From X-rated movies in video stores. From sexy magazines in convenience stores. From nude dancers in clubs. From hard-core Internet sites you can access on your personal computer.

"Every bit of it is harmful. We want it totally gone," says Mr. Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, a Sharonville-based, pro-family group backed by some of the biggest names in American conservative religion and Tristate corporate and sports circles.

For 25 years, the group has fought the sale of explicit magazines in Tristate stores, and battled clubs and art it finds obscene.

Now, it's engaged in another high-profile campaign. In an assault on the billion-dollar hospitality and pay-per-view movie business, the group vows to eliminate all X-rated films from the nation's hotels.

This fall, three Tristate hotels - the Marriott in Mason and Comfort Suites and TraveLodge in Newport - removed adult pay-per-view movies after warnings from prosecutors armed with explicit tapes of in-room films recorded by CCV volunteers.

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On Friday, prosecutors in Clermont and Butler counties said they, too, were investigating hotels for possible decency violations after receiving CCV-made tapes of in-room adult movies.

Buoyed by its local success, the CCV has pressed the Justice Department to crack down on hotel porn nationwide. Money is pouring in. And in a show of cyber savvy, the CCV built an Internet site - www.ccv.org - and says it eventually will label every hotel in the country as "clean" or "dirty".

As momentum grows, the makeup of CCV is receiving renewed interest here and elsewhere.

Mr. Burress says the CCV is a core group that represents 20 million American families concerned about decency, clean living and the futures of their children. The group isn't about invading privacy or peeking into people's bedrooms, he says.

But critics aren't so sure.

"I think they are very dangerous," says Terry Wolfe, a Hyde Park businessman who operates Bristol's Show Club & Revue in Monroe. His adult club has been targeted by CCV in the past because it features strippers.

"The problem with people like Phil Burress is if you don't fit into his agenda, he'll do whatever it takes to try to paint a picture that these businesses are very bad, they are causing moral degeneration of our society," Mr. Wolfe says. "And on and on it goes."

Growing influence

From quiet beginnings as a suburban prayer group that grew out of the Rev. Billy Graham's 1977 Cincinnati crusade, the CCV has developed into a noisy, but efficient, political machine.

BURRESS FILE
• BORN: Mount Washington.
• AGE: 60.
• EDUCATION: Anderson High School, class of 1960.
• CAREER: Former negotiator with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks, former golf course designer.
• POSITION: President of Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values. Joined 1983; president since 1991. A former trustee on the Clermont County Library Board and former chairman of Cincinnati's Equal Rights Not Special Rights organization, which opposes local or national laws that would specifically prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. Also holds a number of executive and board positions with local, state and national pro-family groups.
• SALARY: $87,581 plus benefits.
• CHURCH: Tri-County Assembly of God Church in Fairfield.
• HOME: West Chester Township, Butler County.
• FAMILY: Wife, Vickie Burress, who works with Mr. Burress as CCV's victim assistance coordinator - salary of more than $28,167 plus benefits - as well as being the founder and executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana and executive official with a number of national pro-family organizations. Twice divorced, Mr. Burress has four adult children (including two stepchildren) and seven grandsons.
• HOBBIES: Golfer who rates golf courses for Golf Digest magazine. Enjoys travel with Mrs. Burress.
It has a $1 million annual budget and escalating lobbying activity. It boasts a mailing list of 50,000 people statewide, and says it draws contributions from more than 5,200 donors in 43 states.

Ties with national "family values" leaders such as the Rev. Mr. Graham, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association help with image and clout.

"We used to be local. Now, we're statewide with a national impact. We get calls from all over the country. Our reputation is out there," says Mr. Burress, who became CCV president in 1991.

Besides a 10-member board of directors, the group has a 34-member advisory board that includes doctors, politicians, athletes and corporate leaders.

American Financial's Carl Lindner III is on the board. So is Daniel Pilarczyk, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Cincinnati, and Anthony Munoz, former Bengal and NFL Hall of Famer.

"They do stand for what is right, decent and clean," says Mr. Munoz, who runs his own charitable Munoz Foundation and was chairman of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission last summer.

"I believe Phil is a true warrior out there on the front line. He really stands up and does things a lot of people wish would be done, but maybe they don't have the courage to do."

Incoming Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich has been employed by CCV as a paid consultant for the past year since leaving his Cincinnati City Council seat.

Mr. Heimlich says he'll quit the consulting job Dec. 31, the day before he takes his new county commission seat.

He says he developed a close relationship with CCV as a city councilman, after Mr. Burress suggested that Cincinnati needed zoning measures to keep sexually-oriented businesses out of the central business district. Mr. Heimlich then successfully spearheaded legislation to do just that in 1996.

"It was no fly-by-night operation," Mr. Heimlich says of his initial impression of CCV. "They relied on land-use studies from around the country and on legal experts who had extensive experience."

He says as commissioner, he may introduce similar zoning measures for Hamilton County.

William Martin, a Rice University professor of religion and public policy who has written extensively about the Religious Right, says CCV's commitment to its values and goals should not be underestimated.

"You are dealing with people who sincerely, fully believe what they believe and who are deeply concerned about their families and the direction the country is taking," Mr. Martin says. "They feel it's their God-ordained duty to fight sin wherever they find it. It's not difficult to tap into that latent or manifest anxiety or concern and get people stirred up."

Joe Platt of Colerain Township joined CCV with his wife this year out of concern for their three young children. They represent the views of many CCV supporters.

"There comes a time when you have to weigh in," Mr. Platt says. "Enough is enough."

Money rolls in

Supporters are generous with their money, too.

In four years, CCV's budget, derived mainly from donations, has doubled to $1 million, mainly in large contributions from single donors. By 2006, CCV officials estimate their budget will grow by another $600,000 with the addition of a development director to drum up financial support and create an endowment fund.

In 2001, as CCV stepped up its fund-raising efforts, annual contributions for the first time topped $800,000, according to the CCV's tax return. Some $405,000 of that came from an undisclosed individual, representing the largest single donation CCV ever received.

Mr. Burress won't identify the donor, and he doesn't have to according to federal income tax regulations for nonprofit organizations.

But the financial boost, he says, allowed the group to hire more staff, expand its services statewide and keep up with calls for help and training that CCV receives from other groups and communities around the country.

"If I raised twice as much money, I can have twice the victories," Mr. Burress says.

The increase in funding also allowed CCV to expand its lobbying in Columbus, where it already has considerable friends in the Statehouse.

Two years ago, Mr. Burress invited state legislators to meet with pro-family groups such as Right To Life, CCV and the American Family Association to discuss "what legislation we wanted to see passed." About 50 legislators turned out, he says.

"We found out there are so many people out there with strong convictions. Just about every representative from Southwest Ohio was there," he says.

"They were all concerned about our issues."

At CCV's urging, Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, introduced the Defense of Marriage Act to deny the benefits of marriage to gays and lesbians. Co-sponsors include Reps. Tom Raga (R-Deerfield Township), Tom Brinkman (R-Mount Lookout) and Michelle Schneider (R-Madeira).

The same four representatives are among sponsors of the Community Defense Act, also backed by the CCV, which would restrict exotic dance clubs and outlaw all public nudity.

The Community Defense Act never made it out of a House committee. The Defense of Marriage Act passed the House, but went nowhere in the Senate.

Mr. Burress plans to push them in Columbus again next year.

`The Ohio Taliban'

Critics accuse the CCV of unjustly forcing their moral views about pornography and homosexuality on others at the expense of constitutional rights.

Self-described pornographer Larry Flynt, who has been in and out of court over three decades because of adult clubs, magazines and shops he started in the Cincinnati area, sees the CCV's mission as "a constant effort to impose their values on other people."

"I have a problem with these guys, and I think they need to get a life," Mr. Flynt says. "We have very few freedoms left, and the ones Americans have now we are not going to give up."

H. Louis Sirkin, a Cincinnati First Amendment lawyer who has defended the Flynt family and other adult businesses nationwide, objects to some of Mr. Burress' statements.

"They call me a `supporter of kiddie porn.' I don't like it when he tries to brand me something I'm not, except for a committed advocate that believes in freedom of thought and freedom of speech," Mr. Sirkin says.

Angelina Spencer, a dancer and adult club owner who this month celebrated the grand opening of the upscale Penthouse Key Club at The Flats in Cleveland, co-founded the Buckeye Association of Club Executives last year to fight attacks on adult businesses.

"I refer to them as the Ohio Taliban," she says of the CCV. The mother of four says she is outraged that the group is trying to regulate what she and her husband can view in the privacy of their hotel room.

"I wish they would find something substantial to do with their rights, instead of worrying about what everybody else is doing," Ms. Spencer says.

A note and a tape

For the time being, the CCV is focusing on getting adult movies out of hotels.

When a CCV member found explicit movies at the Marriot in Deerfield Township, all it took was the delivery of a handwritten note from Mr. Burress and a videotape to Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver to launch an investigation.

Prosecutors in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky say that's typical of the way Mr. Burress operates. They hear from him only occasionally, but when he calls, he usually has fodder for an investigation.

He gives them information about the X-rated materials his volunteers find at local shops and about the activities they have observed at local strip clubs.

When he doesn't get quick enough action, he puts on the pressure.

Mr. Burress recently went public with his criticisms of Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper, charging that Mr. Piper wasn't working fast enough to crack down on shops that sold or rented adult magazines and videos.

"He gave me a deadline until the end of the year or he was going to ask his constituents to hold me accountable," Mr. Piper says. He adds that he's committed to prosecuting obscenity cases, but the CCV must know that "people in my office represent the entire county, not just one group."

Clermont County Prosecutor Donald White says he doesn't feel pressured by Mr. Burress, who "does exactly what everybody is allowed to do."

"If he finds a violation of the law, he contacts the authorities. There is nothing wrong with what he does," says Mr. White, whose office is investigating a hotel-porn complaint from CCV.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who says he agrees with the CCV's anti-pornography mission, says he has not received any information on hotel pornography in his county.

Mr. Burress began networking with prosecutors and other elected officials 15 years ago when he was a paid strategist for CCV. He visited, he called, he invited them out and to play golf. Mr. White says he's played in a golf tournament or two sponsored by CCV since he was elected prosecutor in 1988 - and even won one of them.

"We can hug them and whisper in their ear at the same time," Mr. Burress says of his relationships with local prosecutors. "I hired these people with my votes, and I expect them to do what I expect them to do.

"And that's to uphold the law."

Michael D. Clark contributed to this story.

E-mail mclaughlin@enquirer.com

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