Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been getting flak after the RNC reimbursed a staffer some $2,000 spent at a risque club in Los Angeles.
So why, asks the Democrat-backing Lone Star Project, is U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, off the hook for "his fundraising at Las Vegas strip clubs?"
The Lone Star Project is steered by Matt Angle, director of the Texas Democratic Trust and former aide to then-U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas, whom Sessions beat in 2004. On its Web site, the group says it's an arm of the Lone Star Fund political action committee, offering "political and legislative analysis to help individuals, organizations and the press see beyond the rhetoric and misinformation typically provided by the current Republican state leadership in Texas and Texas Republicans in Washington."
"Sessions has held at least two fundraisers at adult-themed clubs and made no apologies," according to an April 8 press release from the group.
In the wake of the RNC's recent brouhaha, we wondered if Angle & Company bared the truth about Sessions' events.
As back-up to his claim, Angle pointed us to a video attached to the press release. The video, made and uploaded to YouTube this month by the Lone Star Project, shows scenes from Forty Deuce, a Las Vegas club where Sessions has previously confirmed he held an event in 2007 to raise money for his political committee, Pete PAC, which gives money to Republican political candidates. The PAC spent more than $5,000 to rent the club for the occasion, according to federal finance disclosures.
Included with the video: A sound clip from the American Public Media radio show Marketplace. On the clip, Sessions says: "We do a Las Vegas fundraiser every year, and uh, not only raise money, but see Las Vegas. It's a beautiful town."
Marketplace reporter Steve Henn replies: "Forty Deuce is a strip club."
According to the clip, Sessions says: "You know, I've never seen that. It is what I would call a burlesque show, where there's a woman who comes out and has a dress on... uh, she never gets naked. There's no nudity, there's no nudity in there."
According to an undated promotional advertisement for Forty Deuce, the club calls itself a "World-Famous Burlesque," with "striptease that is very empowering to women" and "appeals to both sexes." The original Forty Deuce opened in Los Angeles in 2002 and closed in 2008. The Las Vegas Forty Deuce venue in the Mandalay Bay casino was open from 2004 to 2007. Since 2008, the Forty Deuce show has played Friday nights at its new Hollywood venue.
Lana Gates, events director for Forty Deuce and other Kane ventures, told us "there is no nudity in the show — it's a mix of sexiness and whimsy, pleasing to both genders."
In the Marketplace segment, Kane offered this distinction about his burlesque shows: "The key component would be to have girls who were dancers taking their clothes off, not just girls taking their clothes off."
Promotional video of Forty Deuce's scantily-clad dancers crawling across the floor and grinding on musicians indicated the show is adult-oriented, as the Lone Star Project says. Published reports reinforce that conclusion. In 2002, The New York Times wrote of the Forty Deuce in Los Angeles: "The dancer, Carolina Cerisola, gyrated and fox-trotted while peeling off her gown, a pair of long violet gloves and a pink bra. When she kicked off a pair of spangled black panties, they grazed the back of the bartender's head." And writing in The New York Times' travel section, Frommer's Travel Guides describes the Las Vegas joint as "the first establishment to cash in on the return of the high-class hoochie girl." Zagat, on its Web site, calls it "good for a bachelor party."
Unnoted by the Lone Star Project: Sessions raised money for his leadership PAC, People for Enterprise, Trade and Economic Growth (PETE), at the Forty Deuce club before he was elected by House Republicans in November 2008 to lead the NRCC. So, unlike GOP chairman Steele, he did not yet hold a national party post.
The second fundraiser cited by the Lone Star Project, also for Sessions' PAC, took place at Tao Las Vegas in February 2009. The Tao complex includes an Asian-cuisine restaurant, topless pool and nightclub (the club promises "a happy ending" on its Vegas billboards).
The Washington Post reported that unnamed Republicans had said the 2009 fundraiser was held at Tao's restaurant, which, according to Restaurants & Institutions magazine, ranked as the highest-grossing independent restaurant in the United States — a title it still claims today. According to federal financial disclosures, Sessions' PAC spent about $4,390 on food and beverages at the restaurant.
What we found: The restaurant is two floors down from Tao's nightclub, which has nearly nude dancers that restaurant patrons 21 and older can go upstairs to see. Pennapa Chutima, a hostess at the restaurant, said it's not adult-themed. She said: "It's a peaceful calm environment. Families are more than welcome. We are stroller-friendly."
The city of Las Vegas classifies local clubs as topless clubs with liquor, adult night club establishments or as nightclubs. Tao's club — which doesn't have burlesque or striptease — is listed among nightclubs.
Finally, we didn't find record of Sessions airing fundraising regrets. Neither Sessions nor his aides agreed to our requests for on-the-record interviews.
The naked truth?
All indications are that Sessions held one fundraiser in an adult-themed venue and another in a restaurant that's separated from its nightclub featuring nearly nude dancers.
We rate the Lone Star Project's statement as Half True.