The longtime leader of the Marijuana Policy Project says that after helping legalize pot in 10 states, he’s decided to spearhead a national push to legalize prostitution.
Prostitution is against the law in all 50 states, with the exception of some Nevada counties.
Rob Kampia, a savvy political campaigner who grew the MPP from a low-profile nonprofit organization into a well-funded vehicle for designing state political campaigns, “came out” in an interview with the Washington Examiner as a someone who has paid for sex himself.
“It’s important, like the gay rights movement. ... If everyone knows someone who is gay, maybe being gay shouldn’t be a hassle or a crime,” Kampia said. “With this, anyone who has been engaged in paid sex, on the provider or the client side, should speak up and out themselves. I just outed myself to a reporter for the first time here."
Kampia said he paid for sex rarely, and that "the reason I admitted this to you right now is that it’s extremely hard to find professional men to admit to a reporter that they paid for sex, because usually their family or their girlfriend aren’t going to like to hear it."
According to Kampia, an unmarried political libertarian who left MPP in 2017, many of the well-heeled donors who backed marijuana legalization also support Decriminalize Sex Work, a new national advocacy group that launched Monday.
Kampia claims there has been more than $1 million in donations, with $700,000 coming from "hardcore libertarians" Scott and Cyan Banister. The group has hired a Republican lobbying firm in New Hampshire and a Democratic firm in Rhode Island, hoping small, nonconservative states will start a national movement.
Scott Banister, a tech pioneer who worked as a Paypal board member, did not respond to a request for comment. Kampia said that Banister authorized him to use his name but generally does not speak with the media.
Decriminalize Sex Work currently has four staffers, including Kampia. The group’s communications director, comedian Kaytlin Bailey, said in an interview that she’s been a sex worker during two periods of her life, and she applauded Kampia for outing himself as a client of prostitutes.
“It’s so important to show people that these are not monsters. These are not crazy, creepy people who you would never want to be associated with,” she said. “Perfectly normal men purchase sex. … I can speak with authority.”
Initial reaction to Kampia’s group has been mixed. Some fellow decriminalization advocates note his controversial past leading MPP, where he once joked about giving a coworker a “breast massage," according to a 2010 Washington City Paper expose.
"This is really a vanity project, not a functional rights organization," activist Stacey Swimme, who worked with Kampia on marijuana policy and connected him with sex work advocates, told the Daily Beast.
Bailey said that the group’s four employees are all co-directors, however, and that the focus should not be on Kampia.
“Our goal is not to teach our allies not to be dumb,” Kampia said. “It is working with well-meaning legislators and activists on specific bills in specific states and winning. With marijuana, we have the playbook.”
When successfully pushing for state legalization of marijuana, MPP branded the effort in simple terms as a bid to “regulate marijuana like alcohol.” For prostitution, he intends to push the message of "making sex legal.”
"'Making sex legal' is a punchline and it's actually more powerful than regulating marijuana like alcohol. It’s more powerful because about half of American adults have smoked pot, but almost 100 percent have had sex,” he said.
Marijuana legalization’s early successes came at the ballot box through initiatives, circumventing more cautious lawmakers. Kampia said the earliest he could imagine a sex work initiative is in 2022 or 2024, perhaps in a relatively sparsely populated state such as Alaska, Maine, or Oregon. Although state campaigns are the focus, the new group launched after the 2018 passage of FOSTA-SESTA, a federal law that forced sex ads offline.
But Kampia, who favors both legal brothels and the legalization of independent-contractor sex work, faces strident opposition to his claim that legalization would improve sex worker well-being.
“I'm so sad I can hardly stand it right now,” said Lori Paul, spokeswoman for Breaking Free, a group that opposes prostitution, citing exploitation and violence against sex workers. “They don't see the faces that come in here broken."
“No woman really wants to do this,” Paul said. “This is something where she is marginalized and someone else is trying to screw her for their own pleasure, physically or financially."