Indecent Proposal

Larry Flynt, who knows smut when he sees it, throws his money into the mess

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A new stink bomb has been dropped on the Capitol, already reeling from the Starr report. In a full-page, $85,000 ad in the Washington Post last week, Larry Flynt announced a reward of up to $1 million for anyone who could prove having had "an adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official." What's high-ranking? In an interview with TIME, Flynt said he'd go broke if every scalp garnered the top prize. Flynt is reserving that for the goods on bold-type names. "One member of the Republican leadership is like a rabbit, and that's worth the whole million. But some freshman from Tennessee? The value's not there." He isn't as specific on which government officials merit the full bounty. But you should save your breath if you notched your bedpost with an assistant secretary for fossil fuels.

Even without any money on the table, Republican members Helen Chenoweth, Dan Burton and Henry Hyde have already been singed. So far, Flynt says he has got more than 2,000 calls: a few were cranks, 85% were laudatory, some were offers to sweeten the pot, and about 300 were calls from women (and a few men) with sorry tales to tell. Flynt says three editors spent last week winnowing those down to about "12 officials with pasts that look very promising and with concrete evidence to back them up." He relishes "repeat offenders" but is particularly excited by the bonus divorced members bring--the possibility that they have lied under oath.

On Capitol Hill members are either deriding Flynt or snapping "no comment," with the exception of a Congressman who joked at the Democratic caucus meeting last week, "For a million dollars, I'll turn myself in." Flynt explains that he's philosophically against outing adulterers, but fair is fair. "Those who've decided to set themselves up as judges of sex and lies should themselves be judged," he says, adding that he'll give a GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card to "anyone who wants to recuse themselves now."

Flynt's offer dovetails with two compatible forces: the media once reluctant to publicize Washington philanderers but now ravenous to do so; and women once reluctant to rat on their married lovers but now less willing to suffer in silence. The town is full of former Cherry Blossom Princesses brought to the Capitol by newly elected Congressmen to serve as receptionists and links to the folks back home. A woman in this category learns not only how bills become law but also what a cad a politician (with a family back in the district) can be in the big, bad city. Usually the epiphany occurs when she has passed the sell-by date and a new beauty queen begins answering constituent mail. She may be bitter, but she knows to keep quiet. For every Gennifer Flowers who publishes a book and gets a spot on Larry King, there are hundreds of underemployed women working the back office during the day and feeding the cat and watering the rhododendron at night.

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