Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

“I want to talk to you about something I’m not proud of, something I wanted you to know,” Bob Livingston, U.S. House Speaker designate said in announcing his resignation to a selected group of Republican Congressmen last Thursday. In short, he said, “I’ve been Larry Flynted.”

On the strength of a million-dollar bounty for damaging sexual dope, Larry Flynt had become a kingpin in national politics. Livingston, a 20-year Washington veteran who commanded 85 percent of the vote in his Louisiana district, had resigned before Flynt uttered a word or produced a shred of evidence about the congressman’s private life.

Following up with his own press conference in Beverly Hills the next day, Flynt promised his crusade against “sexual McCarthyism” in Washington would not end with Livingston. “Several more [politicians] are going to bite the dust before this is over,” he told reporters gathered at his opulent publishing office. Sure enough, more calls poured in to Hustler magazine over the weekend.

With claims that he holds as many as a dozen other high-ranking government officials in his crosshairs, Flynt’s bold experiment as a deep-pocketed, left-of-center foil to Ken Starr has rendered the capital a political minefield, and unearthed a dark profile of life in late-millennium America — one of hypocrisy, revenge and the aching desire for cash.

It was early October when Flynt’s full-page ad appeared in the Washington Post. He was offering, the ad plainly stated, up to $1 million to anyone who could provide documentary evidence of “an adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the U.S. Congress or a high-ranking government official.”

The calls began to flow into Hustler’s Wilshire Boulevard offices, eventually surpassing 2,000 tips. About 300 of those were deemed serious enough to follow up — and a majority of them, Hustler staffers say, involved Republicans. “One million dollars is a lot of incentive for people to come forward,” observed Allan MacDonell, Hustler’s executive editor. It took Livingston’s resignation, however, to invigorate flagging public interest. “I came in Monday morning,” said a high-level Hustler assistant, “and had 52 calls on my machine.”

For Flynt, who once considered a bid for the presidency, the success of his recent foray into national politics, and the resulting media attention, represents something of a personal triumph. According to staffers, Flynt takes an active interest, personally reviewing each case that withstands scrutiny and helping set the figures offered in negotiations with informants. “It’s the biggest thing that Larry’s ever been involved in,” said one longtime Hustler employee.

As the pile of stories continued to grow, Flynt consulted Rudy Maxa, an old friend and veteran journalist who first came to prominence in 1976 by exposing Congressman Wayne Hays’ affair with secretary Elizabeth ‘I can’t type, I can’t even answer a phone’ Ray. Flynt subsequently hired a major Washington private-investigation firm staffed by, in his words, former CIA and FBI agents. Three freelance reporters, according to a Hustler editor, are also pursuing leads. “I felt I had to employ a very high standard of journalistic proof,” Flynt told the assembled press. “I didn’t want to be dismissed by someone saying, ‘Consider the source.’”

At his press conference, Flynt said that four women have alleged affairs with Livingston dating back a decade. He kept mum regarding other charges and political figures, saving his alleged scoops for a Hustler special report expected to be published sometime after the first of the year. The information has already cost the publisher a reported million dollars. (The individual rewards have been substantially less than that.)

Sources inside Hustler claim the nature of the allegations against Livingston are more serious than President Clinton’s indiscretion, but again, have yet to provide details. They say, too, that the other stories include that of a pro-life Congressman who forced a spouse to get an abortion, and of another member of Congress who lied in a divorce proceeding. “Its not just sex and affairs,” said one Hustler editor. Still, hope exists at the magazine that at least one of Livingston’s mistresses will pose nude for the report.

While Livingston’s sudden fall, along with speculation about Flynt’s future bombshells, held the public’s rapt attention, the million-dollar solicitation was producing other unintended results. The broader picture of the Washington sex scene, for instance, in the end may prove more shocking than any particular tale of adultery. In upscale townhouses in respectable Georgetown neighborhoods, many callers contended, there are a series of private dominatrix dungeons. “These women have incredible stories,” David Buchbinder, a Hustler features editor, said, “but they get paid a lot of money, and none of them want to name names.”

Other responses were nonstarters due to irrelevance — one scorned woman called in from a small town in Ohio hoping to expose the sex antics of a local prosecutor; a Virginia woman claimed to have had an affair with a prominent attorney. “After a while,” said a Hustler editor, “it’s totally sad to hear these tales of woe.”

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