Amendment 16, the innocuously worded anti-obscenity measure on November's ballot, has the potential to stir up more passion than most blue movies. And in a strange twist that recalls Victorian-era anti-smut crusades, Denver's bluebloods have been recruited to bankroll the amendment and serve as foot soldiers.
While proponents say the amendment would merely bring Colorado in line with other states and make it easier to stamp out hard-core pornography, opponents note that it would allow every local government in the state to define what's obscene.
Combative anti-abortion attorney Barry Arrington, also a Republican candidate for the District 20 state Senate seat, leads the charge for Amendment 16, talking in detail about the horrors of bestiality and gerbil-jamming while accusing his opponents of "scare-mongering" about censorship. "A woman having oral sex with a dog and persons inserting small rodents into the rectum," he volunteers. "Don't tell me that's in the same category as Catcher in the Rye."
Arrington's law partner, Gene Malpas, is a veteran anti-smut activist who recently moved to Colorado after stirring the pot elsewhere. Together with Arvada housewife Denise Mund and hired lobbyist Steve Mathers (head of the state PTA), they're the public leaders of Arvada-based CHILD, the Coalition Helping to Insure Laws for Dignity. Supporting them are former Senator Bill Armstrong, who warns of "enormous danger" from "ACLU pornographers and other anti-family forces," and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, the most prominent Christian-radio broadcaster in the nation.
Behind them, though, is one of Denver's most successful--and invisible--real-estate operators, who so far has financed this moral crusade practically single-handedly. William B. Pauls, head of the Denver Tech Center and Meridian empire, has contributed nearly $66,000 of CHILD's $77,000 war chest.
Pauls, who has garnered very little publicity in Denver outside the society pages, declined to talk to Westword. His secretary suggested a call to Arrington instead.
"Bill's a private person," says Arrington. "I think he's very concerned that he doesn't want his privacy violated."
But Pauls's associates have included people ensnarled in what many consider the prime, and very public, financial obscenity of the 1980s: the savings-and-loan scandal. He's an ally of ex-Denver wheeler-dealers John W. Dick (now hiding on the Isle of Jersey) and Bill Walters, the former chamber of commerce president and Neil Bush sugar daddy who has been found guilty of no crimes, despite his defaulting on more than $100 million in loans in the Silverado fiasco.
Pauls's road to Denver actually began in London in the late Seventies, when he and fellow Canadian John Dick, dressed in mink overcoats and black suits instead of the more proper pinstripes, were known as the "dark duo" when they grabbed hold of European Ferries Ltd. In 1979, still operating from England, they purchased the Denver Tech Center from founder George M. Wallace. During the Eighties, Dick and Pauls sold some of their holdings to British megaconglomerate Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation for more than $50 million. P&O still owns the Tech Center and the giant Meridian development in Highlands Ranch; both business parks are booming.
Today Pauls is P&O's man in Denver, the head of Pocol Investments. He's also on the board of EF International in London. But Pauls rarely surfaces in the business pages; he's no publicity hound. He did get mentioned in the society columns in 1993 when he and wife Verna hosted a simply smashing party for Up With People, and once in a while his name does creep into news stories.
In the 1992 California bankruptcy trial of Bill Walters, it was revealed that Walters had received money from a Newport Beach company called W.P Development, owned by one Bill Pauls. Walters was pleading poverty; a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee alleged that he was living well thanks to a series of corporate maneuvers involving his wife and trust funds. Although Walters was cleared of wrongdoing, he acknowledged that W.P. Development was paying him $10,000 a month in management fees. Previous testimony had shown that W.P. Development was receiving the same amount each month from ERG Group, a trust set up by Walters's family.
It wasn't the first time Pauls had apparently stepped in to help his friend. In 1987, when Walters was busily selling off his Denver properties, Pauls paid him $30 million for the downtown Boston Building. Pauls later defaulted on the property; Travelers Insurance sold the building earlier this year for $5 million.
Pauls has come a long way since his early days in London. He and Verna, who have two sons, live in Pine Grove, an estate on Sunset Drive in Cherry Hills Village. (When Walters hightailed it out of Colorado in 1990, he sold the house to Pauls.) The Paulses spent several years in the Denver Social Register "blue book," and belong to the Cherry Hills and Castle Pines country clubs, as well as the Metropolitan Club. Pauls has landed on the boards of National Jewish Hospital, Children's Hospital, Kent Denver Country Day School and the exclusive Vintage Country Club near Palm Springs, California, where he and his wife also have a home.
In fact, Palm Springs is where the couple became involved with Amendment 16. This is how it happened, according to CHILD's Denise Mund: While Verna was in Palm Springs in 1992, she attended an anti-porn meeting at which Gene Malpas spoke. At the time, Malpas was a roving counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families, an anti-porn group that grew from the Reagan era's Meese Commission on Pornography. Horrified by Malpas's contention that Denver was one of the nation's premier smut capitals, Verna got in touch with Mund, who had launched an anti-porn group in Denver several years before.
It was a natural cause for someone whose only activity listed in the Social Register was Cherry Hills Community Church. Fellow attendees at the huge evangelical, non-denominational church include Bill Armstrong, John Elway, convicted financier Bo Mitchell and the Independence Institute's Tom Tancredo. Cherry Hills, like many other churches, encourages its members to get involved in community affairs. In its foyer are stacks of political literature from Focus on the Family. And inside each copy of Focus's Citizen magazine is the local insert of the Rocky Mountain Family Council, a political action group founded by Barry Arrington.
The church is one of many around the country that have hosted standing-room-only crowds to see Focus on the Family's Generation at Risk, a shock-treatment, multi-media expose of popular culture. At one such event last year, a full house in the mammoth Cherry Hills sanctuary was treated to such soundbites as Kiss's Gene Simmons talking about how he "wanted to fuck until my dick fell off."
It's not known whether Bill and Verna Pauls attended that X-rated Focus show. But at this point in the war against smut, Arrington says, Pauls "is a concerned citizen who wants to help."
Since hooking up with Bill and Verna Pauls two years ago, CHILD has tried to get an anti-obscenity measure on the ballot. After legislative attempts failed in '93 and '94, this summer CHILD hired Kennedy Enterprises of Colorado Springs to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. Enough were collected, but the courts held that the proposed amendment's wording didn't convey its full effect. So CHILD quickly put out a reworded version and gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the November 8 ballot.
In the meantime, Pauls's blueblood and business connections have already paid off. CHILD offers a long list of supporters unusually heavy with Denver high society, including grande dame Florence Ruston (the former "Baby Fleurette" of Our Gang fame), Carolyn Fancher (celebrated in the press as the "queen of can-do in the volunteer world") and the Nicholas Petrys (he played golf with Ike). Also from the Social Register are the Robert E. Pucketts (he's in oil), the Ted P. Stockmars (he's in law) and the James M. Woodards (he's an in-law of Petry's). The list includes very rich men: Phil Anschutz (who's given $5,000 to CHILD) and Jack Vickers. And the tailor of very rich men: Mark Reed of Homer Reed Ltd. And it contains both cable pioneer Bill Daniels and one of the men, John Saeman, who convinced Daniels that he had a drinking problem back in 1985. Joining the crusade are neighbors of Bill and Verna Pauls on Sunset Drive, the Harry Truebloods, and their preacher, Dr. Jim Dixon of Cherry Hills Community Church, whose congregation includes several people in the Social Register.
Predictably, several members of the Coors family also are on board.
But not everybody is happy to make CHILD's list.
Last spring, state Senator Bill Owens (currently a candidate for state treasurer) introduced a bill pushing CHILD's proposal. At that time, the group's list of supporters still included Karen Ringsby, president of the Planned Parenthood board, and her husband. Arrington had talked to Ringsby the year before about using the proposal as a weapon against "kiddie porn," according to Planned Parenthood's Katie Reinisch.
The energetic Arrington is a sworn enemy of Planned Parenthood: He uses big billboards to solicit business from people "injured" by abortions. (When you call the advertised number, CHILD's Mund answers the phone.) Despite Arrington's animus toward her group, Ringsby signed on in principle--even as Planned Parenthood's staff lobbied against the measure because the organization's educational materials, such as instructions on how to put on a condom, could be labeled obscene by conservative communities. Ringsby spent a year trying to get Arrington to remove her name from the list, says Reinisch. Finally, at last spring's hearing, state Senator Joan Johnson read into the record a letter from Ringsby saying she was not a supporter of CHILD or the proposal.
Also on CHILD's list of supporters was the Colorado PTA. But the PTA's chief executive, Steve Mathers, failed to tell legislators that he was also a paid lobbyist of CHILD. That angered lawmakers such as Johnson and Democrat Paul Weissman of Louisville, who pointed out that Mathers was a hired gun.
Both Weissman and Johnson say that the more lawmakers explored the measure's ramifications, the more leery they became. But voters may not pay as much attention to the fine print before they go to the polls.
"I think it has a good chance," Weissman says of Amendment 16. "Who's not for the First Amendment? Who's for obscenity? It depends whether people go to the polls and maybe get bored or skip a bunch of these ballot measures. I think the supporters are hoping for no discussion of it."
Except among the true believers. Last week Dobson sent a special letter from his Colorado Springs bunker, pleading with his flock to back Amendment 16. A recent CHILD fundraising appeal from Armstrong harks back to the Amendment 2 conflict by railing against "homosexuals, pedophiles, criminal sex offenders and the other users of illegal hard-core pornography."
In contrast, 16's opponents are off to a slow start. At this point they include librarians, local booksellers such as Joyce Meskis of the Tattered Cover, national groups of booksellers and video-store owners, media giants TCI and HBO, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Although some stories in the local press have portrayed the fight as the PTA versus the ACLU, Senator Johnson says she thinks PTA members have been "conned" by the measure's supporters. And just who really supports Amendment 16 remains murky. For all their talk about protecting Colorado's women and children from hard-core pornography--Planned Parenthood's Reinisch recalls Arrington as particularly obsessed with "women and dogs"--the proponents don't have Colorado's prosecutors in their corner. The Colorado District Attorneys Council has decided not to take a position, says its president, John Suthers.
Suthers, the Colorado Springs DA, says he personally supports Amendment 16. But most prosecutors, he adds, are concerned that "proponents are raising wholly unrealistic expectations."
"The prosecutors don't want people going to them and saying, `There's a Penthouse on the shelf down at the 7-Eleven. Get rid of it.'"
On the other hand, Suthers says opponents' talk of the measure's potentially "chilling effect" on free expression is "pure BS.
"That has more to do with other currents going on in our state--the Christian right and all that," he says. "Some of the merits of the thing are lost in the shuffle."
Regardless of what Suthers says, national anti-censorship groups worry that measures like Amendment 16 would cause retailers of books and videos to censor themselves out of fear that they'll be prosecuted.
"Amendment 16 seems reasonable in its wording," says Chris Finan of New York City's Media Coalition. "But underneath there is extremism. We're accused of being alarmists, but what if a minority attempted to exploit the law to use it not just against hard-core porn but against any depiction of sexuality that doesn't agree with their own?"
The one thing on which proponents like Suthers and opponents like Denver attorney Dan Recht can agree is that Coloradans right now have more freedom of speech than is guaranteed under the First Amendment.
"Historically in Colorado, there's greater freedom of expression," says Recht, who represents booksellers. "For instance, the federal court says shopping malls aren't public places for free expression, but in Colorado we have the right to political speech in malls. This is about more than obscenity."
Recht says CHILD's talk about "protecting children" is "pure, unadulterated bullshit. There's a national agenda to restrict freedom of expression, and Colorado's an easy target. After all, it's the state that passed Amendment 2."
Mund, the Arvada housewife who leads CHILD, still insists that the issue is simple. "Censoring is illegal," she says. "We're just asking for First Amendment standards. I've been called a `blank-blank' and a `Puritan.' But we're not of the religious right at all."
Perhaps to emphasize that contention, CHILD's list of supporters no longer includes preachers. Also gone is Ringsby, as well as the Colorado District Attorneys Council, which was mistakenly listed last spring.
CHILD is now "focusing on a grassroots campaign," says Mund. The group's next report on its campaign contributions, due October 28, will be "much more diverse," she says. "Bill and Verna will be cutting back.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.