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Cong. Sessions' Burlesque Fundraiser Stuns Supporters

Congressman Pete

By Shelley Kofler

Dallas, TX – Some of Dallas Congressman Pete Sessions' supporters are astounded by news first reported on public radio's "Marketplace." Last week KERA aired the story that included Sessions defense of a fundraiser he held at what he called a Las Vegas burlesque show. KERA's Shelley Kofler has more on reaction to the conservative Congressman's not-so-conservative event.

Dallas Congressman Pete Sessions operates a political action committee, or PAC, called People for Enterprise Trade and Economic Growth. It raises hundreds of thousands of dollars that Sessions distributes to other Republicans running for office.

In March of 2007, Sessions' PAC held a fundraiser in Las Vegas at the club Forty Deuce.

The club's website says the entertainment is naughty yet elegant, and that it puts the tease back into the Strip.

Club owner Ivan Kane described the show for Marketplace reporter Steve Henn.

Kane: The key component would be to have girls who were dancers taking their clothes off, not just girls taking their clothes off.

In his interview with Henn, Congressman Sessions provided this explanation.

Sessions: 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.

Cathie Adams: Good Grief. That's a very convoluted explanation. Burlesque, strippers -- those words in the same explanation.

Cathie Adams is the president of the Texas Eagle Forum, which says it promotes traditional family values.

Adams lives in Sessions' district and says she's receiving emails from constituents who say this isn't what they expected from their congressman.

Adams: It surprises me that such a venue would be acceptable to a man whose record has been held so high as far as integrity, as far as conservative values. Certainly this is a family community and I don't think Mr. Sessions would particularly like either of his sons to be participants in such a venue.

And that's the problem the burlesque fundraiser creates for Sessions, according to Southern Methodist University Political Science Professor Cal Jillson.

It's the kind of anti-family environment Sessions might criticize, never mind his distinction between burlesque and stripping.

Jillson: He is sort of traveling in that narrow band saying nobody got naked, but lots of dancers lost a lot of clothes and that is difficult for the Pete Sessions core voters to get their mind around. So he does have a problem.

Jillson doesn't believe Sessions will lose his congressional seat, though he may lose standing in his party at a time when he's vying for a Republican leadership position.

Congressman Sessions and his staff didn't return calls KERA made to their Washington and Dallas offices during the past week. The Republican Party of Texas also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, disappointed conservative Cathie Adams has a recommendation. She thinks Sessions should shift locations for his next fundraiser - say to Montana - where he could replace bump and grind with a more wholesome activity like fly fishing.

Link to July 22nd Marketplace Story