Does Rick Perry have a porn problem?

An investment in a video rental chain was once a target of conservative protests

Published August 19, 2011 1:01PM (EDT)

Here's an interesting tidbit from Rick Perry's past to keep an eye on. In the mid-1990s, the presidential candidate owned stock in a video rental store chain whose hardcore porn offerings drew the ire of conservative groups, according to a 2006 report on a liberal Texas blog. That item was resurrected by several liberal websites this week.

Burnt Orange Report, a site founded by a Democratic activist, reported in 2006 that Perry's 1995 financial disclosure showed he owned between $5,000 and $10,000 in stock in the company Movie Gallery. He was at the time state commissioner of agriculture.

Why is that significant? Because the now-defunct Movie Gallery, once a competitor to Blockbuster, was known for offering XXX porn rentals along with conventional Hollywood fare. (FireDogLake offers a useful sampling of titles here.)

Ironically, it was the social conservative crusaders at the American Family Association -- the very group that helped organize Perry's stadium prayer rally this month -- who spent years on an anti-porn campaign targeting Movie Gallery. AFA was actively targeting Movie Gallery both before and after Perry owned the stock; at one protest event outside Movie Gallery's Alabama headquarters in 2000, AFA members held signs reading "Serve God or Serve Money," "Pornography hurts families," and "Porn dishonors mothers."

An AFA spokesman complained to a local newspaper, "There were hundreds of these hard, nasty-looking videos that were extremely graphic."

Asked about the investment by Salon, Perry spokesman Mark Miner argued that it is a non-story. "It was a regional video chain just like a Blockbuster or any other," he said, adding that Perry had bought and sold the stock in 1995. (Perry's stock holdings were put in a blind trust in 1996, so what he has owned since that year is not publicly known.)

1995 was a long time ago, but never underestimate how intensely social conservatives in places like Iowa abhor porn. Prominent Iowa GOP activist Bob Vander Plaats told me in a recent interview, for example, that he favors an outright ban on smut.

For now the Perry-porn story seems to have mostly generated interest among liberals hoping it will become a problem for him. But it's not beyond the realm of imagination that it could become a real headache.

After all, it's not unprecedented for a GOP presidential candidate from Texas to catch heat for ties to the porn business. Back in 1995, the presidential campaign of Sen. Phil Gramm was dealt a blow after the New Republic reported that he had invested in porn films with his brother-in-law. One of the films involved in the scandal was titled "Truck Stop Women."

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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