The Team State Seminar
Heads of statewide organizing and lobbying chapters, as well as ACE National, came together at EXPO 2016 to offer advice on how to start a statewide chapter if one doesn’t currently exist, how to improve your statewide chapter and explain exactly why it is so crucial to have a chapter in place.
Nearly every imaginable industry has a lobbying group representing itself, and the adult nightclub industry is no exception. Religious activists and ambitious politicians regularly try to legislate adult clubs out of business or at least out of profitability. In 1999, in response to devastating state legislation, this writer started ACE of Michigan, that state’s adult nightclub association and earlier the same year, worked with EXPO producer and ED Club Bulletin publisher Don Waitt to start ACE National, the adult nightclub industry’s national association. 23 state club associations of various incarnations are currently in existence.
Clearly, it’s much safer for a state’s adult clubs to proactively form a state association than to wait until they’re facing pending legislation. The Team State seminar focused on the how-tos of forming and running a state club association, what an association is and how an association can help its members.
The seminar participants were Jeff Levy, who heads state associations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York; Jim St. John, ACE National President, Spearmint Rhino vice president and a founding board member of ACE of Michigan; noted First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot, Jill Chambers, Executive Director of Georgia’s new association and Larry Kaplan, ACE of Michigan founder and executive director, ACE National’s first executive director and ED Club Bulletin’s Legal Correspondent.
“It’s not a question of whether bad legislation will happen, but when,” cautioned Jeff Levy. “Without an association, you’re going to lose.”
Levy explained that in 10 years, 32 industry-threating bills have been introduced in his three states and they’ve defeated all 32.
Levy explained that you must discover bad legislation when it’s introduced to maximize your odds. Through bill tracking software, Levy and other state associations get a heads-up on the introduction of detrimental bills.
Levy noted that many legislation authors are opposed to adult nightclubs and won’t meet with us. Levy suggested contacting the chairman of the legislative committee introducing the bill who may be more receptive.
Levy stressed the importance of working with a knowledgeable First Amendment attorney to frame your issues, combined with utilizing relevant scholarly studies, which document that adult nightclubs don’t promote sex trafficking or cause other problems.
The Pennsylvania association commissioned a published, peer-reviewed Duke University study, which documents the lack of a strong relationship between adult clubs and sex trafficking and has been graciously made available to other associations.
Levy explained that it’s important to develop strong relationships with elected officials and with political reporters.
Jill Chambers, who gained a perspective on state politics as a former small business owner and elected state legislator talked about the tools she utilized in forming the new Georgia association.
Georgia’s legislature passed a bill two years ago which puts a constitutional amendment enabling an annual pole tax on alcohol clubs on this November’s ballot.
Three months after the tax was put on the ballot, an Atlanta adult club hired Chambers to lobby against city efforts to shut the club down. When Chambers explained the poll tax, the club GM expanded her mandate to include going door-to-door to acquaint metro-Atlanta clubs with the pending measure.
Chambers explained that she has learned through politics that, “Two things motivate people, fear and anger.”
Chambers’ ability to capitalize on the ‘fear and anger’ led to the Georgia association’s formation by 16 Atlanta-area clubs.
“Fighting government is a great consensus builder and government will always be coming after us,” noted Chambers.
“Fear and anger are the motivation but you also need someone to get things done.” Chambers explained that owners need the foresight to fund an executive director and other professionals. The association recently conducted its first COAST anti-trafficking workshop, which reinforced industry opposition.
“You industry people are the problem, because you only come to the table when there’s a crisis and we’re already behind the eight ball.”
- St. John
Larry Kaplan explained how and why ACE of Michigan was started and what it takes to start and maintain a successful state club association.
In 1999, while Kaplan was running a dancer contest series for ED Publications, he learned of impending industry-killing state legislation in Michigan, where he lives. He invited every club in the state to meetings to fight the legislation. The operators formed ACE of Michigan, the first ACE state club association, with Kaplan as executive director to mount the offense.
The legislation was on the fast track with swift passage expected. But they hadn’t planned on ACE of Michigan.
“With literally no notice, we brought 350 industry people to a state capital hearing. We brought so many people, the fire marshal fined the legislature for being over capacity,” explained Kaplan. “The politicians began to realize they had awakened a sleeping giant in the adult industry.”
Kaplan noted that, “By working together and trusting each other, fierce competitors were able to come from behind the 8-ball and kill the legislation.” He added, “But we were very lucky. Without political relationships already in place, your chances of a similar success are slim.”
Since 1999, ACE of Michigan has stopped 10 separate state measures, three city measures and negotiated one compromise ordinance.
Kaplan noted that, “Each was a very hard-fought, significant win. Each legislative battle is specific to its own circumstances. With a strong team in place, your odds will be good in most cases.”
Kaplan detailed the steps to starting and growing a successful state association. “Hire a strong executive director who will present well. Find First Amendment attorneys who are members of the First Amendment Lawyers’ Association (FALA) to ensure their expertise.”
“Price your dues to be inclusive of all clubs, big and small,” Kaplan added. “Work to a plan to diligently develop essential political and community relationships and make carefully planned political contributions, often through the PAC of a less controversial association partner.”
Kaplan explained ways to get and keep members when there is no imminent threat. Continuity is key. Conduct regular meetings with useful topics that keep people involved. Maintain regular contact with members. Introduce members to government officials with whom you have relationships and bring them to council meetings. Utilize articles from ED Club Bulletin to provoke discussion. Vendor partnerships bring added value to members and revenue to your association.
Luke Lirot noted the timeliness of Benjamin Franklin’s astute observation, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Lirot explained that it’s not enough to just run good businesses. We must be organized through state associations to fight our never-ending battles against our industry’s many opponents. Lirot stressed that without the proactive organizing efforts of state associations, our industry would not have achieved as many successes as it has. We need the framework of a state association to hire people to communicate with elected officials and provide the evidence that we’re not bad businesses and convince them of the damage bad legislation would do.
“You must cooperate, collaborate and communicate,” said Lirot. “That’s your best chance.” Lirot sees much of the industry’s threats morphing from legislative to “the litigious blight,” of attorneys who utilize outdated employment laws and other regulations to come at us from every direction.
Lirot, who acts as a lobbyist as well as an attorney noted, “When I was asked to lobby, it seemed like it would be less pleasant than chewing a broken bottle.” He added, “Lobbying is filthy, it’s not what people think and it’s different at every level. The strategies differ.”
Lirot noted that the religious opposition to the industry is now focusing its efforts on claims of sex trafficking at adult clubs. We must go the extra step to convince government that we’re not bad actors.
Jim St. John
Jim St. John explained the role of ACE National and how it can help state associations.
“You industry people are the problem,” noted St. John. “Because you only come to the table when there’s a crisis and we’re already behind the 8-ball.”
St. John urged the attendees to get involved with or start a state association now, not after something happens. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And everyone knows somebody who can help you.”
St. John explained that in 1999 when ACE of Michigan formed to fight pending legislation, some members knew the right people to get them in front of decision-makers. Then Kaplan and the ACE of Michigan board members worked diligently to stop the speeding train.
“There was no way we were going to kill the legislation, but we did because we knew the right people,” explained St. John.
St. John suggested that ACE National executive director Angelina Spencer could provide all of the necessary information to start a state association. “Everyone who doesn’t have a state association, get off of your asses and get it done.”
Larry Kaplan is the Legal Correspondent for Exotic Dancer Club Bulletin, Executive Director of the ACE of Michigan adult nightclub state trade association, a governmental affairs consultant and a consultant in the sales and purchase of adult nightclubs and adult stores. Contact Larry Kaplan at 313-815-3311 or e-mail email@example.com.
For information on starting a state club association, contact ACE National executive director Angelina Spencer at (202) 220-3019 or firstname.lastname@example.org.