Many of you members of Free Speech Coalition have asked what prompted my departure from the Executive Directorship of an organization whose free speech goals I so strongly believe in. I hope this statement will serve to clarify the conflicting press releases that have been published and the rumors that are circulating. It is, of necessity, longer than I would have liked. I used the Q & A format so that you could quickly get to the areas that interest you the most.
Q: When and Why were You Chosen as Executive Director of Free Speech Coalition?
A: I came to FSC in early December 1999 after extensive interviews with a board appointed committee and complete check on my background.
The board of directors that hired me did so, I believe, because they saw in me a person with a combination of experience, integrity, and true dedication to the freedoms upon which the success of our country, and the adult industry, have been based. They told me that FSC had very little money, no federal lobbying presence, and a reputation as a "California coalition," as opposed to the national trade association that they hoped to become in order to better protect the adult industry.
Q: What were the challenges you faced?
A: The FSC board had laid them out for me. First, how was I to lobby against the expected federal persecution of the adult industry with a budget the whole of which was less than our right wing enemies could offer one legislator? Second, what could I do to overcome our "small-timer," California-centered image and create a national organization? Third, how would I be able to raise the money to do these things and simultaneously support the good things FSC was already attempting in California?
In talking with industry leaders, I got the impression that they felt FSC was not providing the kind of representation they wanted. They wanted their dues to deliver more visible accomplishments. In fact, at that time they were in the process of setting up a special fund for future legal defenses that would not be entrusted to the decisions of the FSC board.
It was clear to me that if the trade association was to get more financial support from these leaders and others in the adult industry, we had to first prove ourselves worthy of that investment. To do so we needed to accomplish some things that required more money than we had. A real catch 22!
Q: How did you go about solving those problems?
A: Having spent more than 33 years working in government relations and with "realpolitik" (pleasantries in the capital corridors and deal-making in the backchannels), I knew that the adult entertainment industry would face major problems in trying to establish direct relationships with federal legislators. I also knew there were other well-established, and far less expensive ways of influencing legislation.
I believe I can safely say that during the first couple of years FSC reaped benefits far in excess of my $75,000 salary because of my past lobbying successes and my knowledge of how things get done in the nation's capitol. [FSC would have had to spend at least $400,000 over 4 years for a third-rate federal lobbyist. A first tier lobbyist would have run close to a million dollars for that same period.] Our message got to, and influenced the right people, and it has continued to do so to within a week of my departure. Because some bureaucrats were wary of being publicly associated with our interests, and FSC was cash-poor, I used some of my own funds to start and maintain FSC's federal relationship-building.
There were many successes. I'll mention only a few.
Our backchannel efforts had a pronounced effect on the even-handed way in which the adult industry was treated in the final version of the Thornburgh Report, a document that AG Ashcroft had hoped to use in promoting a fresh round of industry prosecutions. In lobbying for a vested interest, it is almost always better to get an objective, unimpeachable third party to promote one's position while one stays behind the scenes and out of the limelight.
Again, using backchannels, we were able to significantly slow Senator Hatch's attempts to get a new "virtual child porn" law on the federal books. That stalled Ashcroft in his promises to the religious right to start prosecutions for obscenity. Hatch later got it into law by attaching it to the politically unstoppable Amber Alert bill. When lobbying an unpopular position, buying time is frequently the best one can do.
When the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and their million dollar lobbyists were working day and night to blame the Adult Industry for all the evils of spam, it was our useful relationships through the backchannels that kept the message clear that a higher percentage of spam came from non-adult sources. After a couple of tough state laws (including one in CA) passed, the DMA was convinced to stop trying to make a scapegoat of the adult industry and to push for watered-down federal legislation that would still allow all intelligent operators to get product information to the public via e-mail. Turning a powerful enemy into an unwitting ally is better then fighting a costly public battle that one is likely to lose.
Through the backchannels I was able to track the growth of prosecution planning in the Justice Dept. In my last conversation with contacts at the DOJ, I learned that there were 44 adult industry prosecutions in various stages of development. Without those contacts, I would not have been able to forewarn our membership of this alarming growth rate. Sources of information in the enemy's camp are invaluable.
During 2001 and 2002 I started getting invitations to speak at universities, and before large business groups presenting our positions and giving leaders, and future leaders, a look at the reality of the adult industry as a legitimate business run by individuals no different than themselves. It is a necessary part of any communications program to spend dollars building for the future as well as solving problems in the present. One must understand that it takes years, not months, to build solid programs that create permanent change in public perceptions.
Q: How were you able to build national exposure for FSC?
A: First let me say that in the adult world it's easy to get exposure if you expose yourself. That is if you want to dwell on the sexual aspects of the business. That kind of sensationalism is fine for selling product, but it is counterproductive when one wants to build national credibility for an industry trade association that expects to have real success at lobbying. My approach was to play very strongly on the right of all citizens to free choice, rather then the rather self-serving approach that the adult industry has a right to produce sexually explicit materials. Protecting ones own interests through protecting the interests of a much broader constituency is a tried and proven technique for achieving political ends.
2001 I debated the lead attorney for Morality In Media and the audience was overwhelmingly in support of the ideas I presented on behalf of the adult industry. We got excellent press coverage of that debate because it was newsworthy. Since then, I have been asked to do countless interviews, presenting industry views and debunking the pseudo-facts and outright lies launched by our enemies. I have worked with Nightline, Frontline, 60 Minutes and the network news shows on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News. I have been interviewed numerous times for comment by the top 20 newspapers in the country. I believe I provided a strong, positive and professional image for the industry.
Another advantage I have in such interviews is that I speak as a layman, in plain, direct language. I did not speak as an expert on pornography, and I purposely avoided using legal jargon, which is so often confusing and appears disingenuous to the general public. I also have years of experience in staying on point, not letting interviewers take me off into discussions that do not promote an industry's goals, or are anti-productive to a positive public image for that industry.
Q: Did your plan for building FSC funding work?
A: Yes. By the latter part of 2001, many of our individual members were indicating that they would be willing to offer increased financial support because they were starting to see the kinds of results they expected for the money they provided. Though some on the FSC board fought against any dues increase, we were able to get a new dues package passed for 2002. As I recall, we billed almost $600,000 for dues in 2002, and collected about $400,000
This increased budget opened the way for FSC to be more effective in lobbying, to start work on the State Chapter programs that would help build our national reputation and voice, and to gain access to information that helped us start an effective Action Alert Communication program involving our members in issues that would affect the industry, and by asking them to contact their legislators with pre- scripted views supporting industry interests. In the 2002 congressional cycle we reached out to over 3,000,000 voters via a series of e-mails designed to bring out the vote.
Still it was not easy to promote the views of an industry claiming to bring in 10 to 12 billion dollars annually with a budget of $400,000. The religious right spends about 16-times that much each year trying to destroy us.
Q: Why do you believe that we are in such danger right now?
A: Never before has this industry had so much to lose because it is on the verge of so much gain. The industry has become almost ubiquitous in America. It is accepted by a significant share of the total market, but it could just as easily fall victim to the worst persecutions and prosecutions it has ever faced.
There are so many newcomers to the industry who are ignorant of, or simply disinterested in, the dangers unique to our industry and the history of successful prosecutions of those who worked so hard to build it. These naïve people think that they are untouchable. They understand very little as to the real power that a federal administration can wield and they have no concept of what prison time really is like. I do. I spent 13 months in a Peruvian jail while working for the government. It was "hard time" as only a foreign military prison can be.
I hope and pray that no one in the adult industry has to spend a day in jail, but I am sure that many will if the Bush administration stays in office. For that reason, I had been working behind the scenes with like-minded groups for over a year to do everything possible to get this administration out of office in the next election. I will continue to do so even though I am no longer associated with FSC. I have always believed that one has to fight for what one thinks is right, regardless for whom one is working.
Q: What led to your decision to leave FSC?
A: Recently some board members have insisted that it is necessary that we spend a significant portion of our time and of the FSC budget on getting new members and gaining recognition from current members. My feeling has always been that we would gain those things by doing the best possible job of promoting and protecting our industry's interests. Talk is cheap and the proof is in what one accomplishes.
I strongly believe that available funds should be used for expanding our efforts to influence federal legislation and public perception, and to help get the Bush administration out of office, not to further promote our organization internally to its members. I believe that four to six General Meetings each year are sufficient to keep us in touch with our membership, present them with what we feel are important issues, listen to their views, and bring them up to date on what we are doing to advance their goals and protect the industry. We also published newsletters for members, a weekly e-mail update and timely Action Alerts. In addition, I often discussed issues with senior industry members whose long experience provided valued advice.
2003 brought recessionary effects even in our so-called recession-proof industry. Our more costly fundraising efforts and their diminished results, coupled with decreased collections of dues due to the poor economy have created a budget shortfall for FSC. But, now is the worst time for us to pull back or reverse our efforts to become a strong national trade organization and adult industry lobbying force. Now is the time we should be pushing the hardest.
In my view the FSC board, as a governing body, has changed quite a bit since I was first interviewed for the job of Executive Director. It has broadened in terms of representation from more adult industry segments and that is very good, but it seems to have narrowed in terms of its ability, or perhaps willingness, to realistically discuss issues substantive to the interests and future of the whole industry and that is not good. I pushed for the former, but actively resisted the "me first" attitude of the latter. Strong self-interest is great for one’s own business, but not when representing the interests of an entire industry where a broad view of reality and possibility are needed.
As with almost any trade association, the industry-elected board of FSC has little more than a rudimentary knowledge of legislative processes and government relations and almost no knowledge, or even awareness of the realpolitik by which governments get things done most of the time. That is the reason experienced professionals are brought in to act as "hired guns" for an industry's interests. One seldom wins a game without knowing how it is played.
Unfortunately, there were increasing differences between my views of what needed to be accomplished and what the board of directors felt should be done. I felt that FSC was returning to those attitudes that had made it a provincial organization rather than a national force for the entire adult industry. My interests do not lie in that direction.
I want to fight for the right of free expression and the right of free choice for every American. I want to stop this country from becoming a nation where religious beliefs dictate political actions. I want America to be run by the people, for the people. Only when these battles are won for everyone will the adult industry be safe and free to grow without government persecution.
For all of those reason I decided that I must take a different path, but let me be very clear: I think FSC is a good basic trade organization. It is the only group that can even purport to represent the entire adult industry, and that is very important. I have enjoyed working with our staff, lobbyist Kat Sunlove and hard-working Neva Chevalier, and with FSC president Scott Tucker, who proved to be an effective fundraiser. I especially want to commend the loyalty and dedication of Jeffrey J. Douglas and Bill Margold. While I did not always agree with them, I never doubted that they honestly believed that their views delineated what was best for the adult industry. Most of all I have enjoyed knowing individual members who have been so loyal to FSC's causes and offered tremendous support; people like Eddie W., Susan Colvin, Al Bloom, Ron Braverman and Larry Flynt, all of whom have offered encouragement, sound advice and far more than their fair share of financial support. I think FSC is a good basic trade organization. It is the only group that can even purport to represent the entire adult industry, and that is very important.
Q: What are your plans?
A: During the past four years I have had an opportunity to talk with Americans from all walks of life and every strata of our society. I have spoken with legislators, lobbyists and lawyers. I have had dialogues with university and high school students. What I have learned from these conversations has brought me to the conclusion that our country, this "great experiment in human freedom," faces a more terrible danger from within, from the political ignorance and apathy of our own citizens, than from any foreign terrorists that might attack us.
The threat has been created by nearly 40 years of educational neglect of the concepts that are key to understanding the rights and responsibilities upon which our nation was founded and without which it will not survive. Two generations have been numbed to the democratic responsibility that we be ever vigilant of what government is doing lest we awaken to find gone those freedoms we have taken for granted.
These concepts are not based on the accumulated sophistry of political parties. They existed before any political parties came along to despoil and abuse them. They are non-partisan at the least, apolitical at the best. These concepts are the bedrock upon which our nation was founded.
We have already lost much ground. Professional political spin doctors have learned to manipulate an uncritical public. Our genuine patriotic zeal has been twisted into a kind of uninformed chauvinism that has cost Americans their lives, the respect of other nations, and the condescension of those we have elected to govern us.
One of the worst results of this manipulation is that many individual Americans have become cynical about the very process of governance that made us so unique as a nation; the process that for two-and-a-half centuries was the bellwether of human freedom and individual endeavor for all other nations. Far too many have come to believe that their views and their votes don't count. They have become sideline mourners at the funeral of America.
Our form of government demands an informed citizenry who take pride and responsibility in participating in their own governance. Without that participation, democracy ceases and some form of oligarchy survives. It may be made up of minions of the great corporations or of some elite based on wealth, or knowledge, or race, or religious belief. Regardless of its basis, it will not be informed by, or representative of, the will of the people.
Hundreds of thousands have shed their blood and died so that American citizens are free to decide how their elected officials will represent them. Have we forgotten that? Did they die in vain? Were they wounded and maimed so that a cabal of self- serving bigots and oily fat-cats can control our individual destinies?
Based on the apathy and ignorance I saw, I started planning an organization, which is now called Foundations for Democracy. This organization is developing programs and will train people to stand up and speak out in every city, town and backwater village in America, at every college and university, and in the halls of government. They will carry a message to every citizen that only we, the people, can save our country. Only we, the people, can protect our freedoms. Only we, the people, will act for the good of all, rather than the gain of a few. They will teach our children and our adult citizens that without them, without their active participation and informed involvement, there is no United States of America. They will spread the word that America belongs to America's citizens, not to the few who only strive for money, power and self-aggrandizement.
I'm sure I will be working closely with members of FSC in the future. Several members have already expressed support for, and interest in working with, Foundations for Democracy. I wholeheartedly welcome that interest and support.
The next few months will be a non-stop effort developing materials and promoting this new organization so that it can do all it can to defeat the Bush administration in the 2004 election, but I will not forget the ties I have had with the adult industry and its leaders. We are on different ships, but headed toward the same harbor: Freedom for each and every person to pursue life, liberty and happiness through individual choices for which each is prepared to take full responsibility.
In closing, I'd like to thank each and every member of FSC for the opportunity you gave me to serve your interests over the past four years.
William R. Lyon was Executive Director of Free Speech Coalition, the trade association for the adult entertainment industry, for nearly four years. Prior to that he had 35 years of experience in intelligence work, government and community relations, and corporate management. He was Executive VP of Unimark Corp., representing the interests of defense industry clients such as Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Litton Industries, and IBM Government Services. Just before joining FSC, Mr. Lyon was VP Marketing & Business Development for Prosona Partners, a manufacturer of sophisticated communications monitoring/protection systems. Prior to that he spent five years as Marketing Services Director for Exceptional Children's Foundation, one of America's largest non-profits aiding the developmentally disabled. Mr. Lyon is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and the graduate school at Georgetown University. Mr. Lyon can be reached at:
Foundations for Democracy
1329 Garden Street
Glendale, CA 91201