So far Mitt Romney has run a careful, disciplined campaign that has avoided the slightest whiff of impropriety. So why has the former Mormon bishop taken the maximum possible primary donation ($2,500) from Daniel Staton, the chairman of the board of the company that owns Penthouse? This raises embarrassing questions for the GOP frontrunner, who is already facing scrutiny from social conservatives for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his attenuated connection to the pornography industry through his tenure on the board of directors at Marriott, which has been the subject of scrutiny for making adult movies available on pay per view for hotel guests. For a candidate so meticulous that he found it inappropriate to campaign at Pizza Ranch because that socially conservative pizza chain’s founders included a sex offender, this marks a rare gaffe.
However, Staton is not a run-of-the-mill pornographer. In fact, he likely wouldn’t consider himself to be in the adult industry. His biography at his private investment fund, Staton Capital, boasts of his role in a variety of companies, including his role as general partner of Blackbeard Capital Management, a hedge fund dedicated to the investment in publicly traded real estate investment trust, and that he has co-produced or invested in four Tony Award winning Broadway musicals or plays. But, while it does mention prominently that he is chairman of Friendfinder Networks, for some reason, it doesn’t mention that Friendfinder is the parent company of Penthouse, AdultFriendFinder.com, Likemygayphoto.com or even Bondage.com.
Although Romney received Staton’s check in September, his donation didn’t receive any attention until this week when Staton was quoted in Bloomberg Businessweek noting that the former Massachusetts governor was “not an average Joe” in an article about Romney’s ties to private equity. Staton’s assistant, who identified herself only as “Alexandra,” said that he was “really not interested” in commenting. But Marc Bell, the president and CEO of Friendfinder, did speak to The Daily Beast. He made clear that his business wasn’t porn, but something some Americans find far more indecent: “We own lots of companies, lots of business, we’re a private equity firm,” said Bell. Friendfinder was “just a technology company. We write software and the users provide the content.” To him, Penthouse was just a legacy of past business transactions. Bell said the glossy magazine and its accompanying brand “is a tiny piece of our business, less than 10 percent of our total business.”
However, this explanation did not satisfy one leading anti-pornography advocate. Patrick Trueman, president of Morality in the Media, said that while “Governor Romney cannot police all activities of his donors to determine whether to accept or reject donations, he would do well to return contributions from those like Daniel Staton who are known to own obscene or hardcore pornography websites once such contributions are called to his attention.” The Romney campaign did not return calls requesting comment.
Romney is not the only candidate with unsavory ties though. Michael Irvin, the NFL Hall of Famer whose scandalous background includes allegations of drug possession, stabbing a teammate, and patronizing prostitutes, apparently was recruited to encourage a South Carolina congressman to endorse Rick Santorum.
Not to mention that Bell himself maxed out as a donor to Barack Obama in 2008. Although Friendfinder may not be in the pornography business, it doesn’t hurt for a company that produces movies about “bisexual female fuck-buddies” to be bipartisan.