More Monkey Business: You Can Thank Donna Rice for Starbucks’ Promise to Block Porn on Free Wi-Fi

foreground: white to-go cup with Starbucks logo on a wood-plank table. background: vintage TV set showing blurry porn scene, blocked out with a red CENSORED stamp
Artist conception (Engin Akyurt [cup], Rene Asmussen [TV set]; both via Pexels)
The group that bullied Starbucks into blocking porn on free Wi-Fi is run by Donna Rice Hughes -- the beauty queen who played a leading role in Gary Hart's infamous 1987 downfall

What do the demise of former presidential contender Gary Hart’s political career and Starbucks’ recent decision to block porn on its public Wi-Fi have in common?

Donna Rice Hughes.

If you’re old enough to remember Hart — the U.S. senator from Colorado who twice sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988 — you might remember Donna Rice as the aspiring actress at the center of the Monkey Business scandal, the tawdry incident that ended Hart’s second presidential run.

A brief refresher:

In the spring of 1987, when Hart formally declared his candidacy, he was widely viewed as the Democratic frontrunner. He was also dogged by rumors that he was a “womanizer” — rumors that Hart, who was married, denied. Acting on a tip, reporters from the Miami Herald tailed Rice to Washington, D.C., where they staked out Hart’s residence and witnessed the pair together. They subsequently confronted the senator with what they’d seen, he was angry and evasive.

The resulting front-page story, coupled with a widely circulated statement Hart made to a New York Times journalist, challenging reporters to “follow me around” if they didn’t buy his denials of womanizing, left the senator’s campaign in tatters.

Rice’s name soon leaked out. Though the two denied having an affair, the controversy drove Hart to withdraw from the race.

Shortly thereafter, the National Enquirer published a photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap in Bimini, where the pair had recently docked on a party boat called the Monkey Business. It was that image which would come to define the end of Gary Hart’s political career.

These days Donna Rice Hughes (she married Jack Hughes, a businessman, in 1994) is an evangelical Christian who presides over Enough Is Enough (EIE), a Virginia-based nonprofit whose mission is defined by its website tagline: “Making the internet safe for families and children.”

A 2009 candid photo of Donna Rice Hughes, of Gary Hart scandal fame
Donna Rice Hughes, shown here in 2009, now minds other people’s business on the internet (Jared Goralnick via Flickr)

To that end, EIE opposes cyberbullying and online porn and advocates for “safe Wi-Fi” — in other words, an internet-sharing environment in which specialized software filters out pornography.

EIE is unequivocally anti-porn, calling pornography a public-health “pandemic” that threatens children and undermines the nuclear family. In EIE’s view, the “sex industry” and “sexual predators” have hijacked the internet, necessitating intervention from the government and private business interests.

The group doesn’t stop at porn. Its efforts include an unsuccessful push to compel Teen Vogue to unpublish an article entitled “Anal Sex: What You Need to Know.”

According to a recent article in Business Insider, McDonald’s, Subway, and Chick-fil-A are among the fast-food chains that have heeded calls from EIE and other conservative groups to block porn from Wi-Fi offered to customers. In 2016, CNN reported that Starbucks had promised to do the same, but this year, Hughes called out the caffeine king for not following through, initiating an online petition that has garnered more than 26,000 signatures to date.

On November 28, Starbucks acquiesced, issuing a statement to Business Insider asserting that it wanted to make sure that its facilities are “safe and welcoming to all.” The company said it intends to begin rolling out porn-free Wi-Fi in its U.S. locations in 2019.

EIE responded with a statement in which the group vowed to “withhold its applause” until the chain actually follows through.

Porn providers aren’t going down without a protest.

An executive at the adult website YouPorn declared that the Los Angeles-based company will henceforth ban Starbucks products on its premises. PornHub, which is owned by the same Canadian corporation that owns YouPorn, went with a different tack, rolling out a “safe for work” category that allows browsers to view videos of pop stars who appear fully clothed.

Black-and-white photo of Gary Hart speaking at a podium in 1984. Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem are at the table. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder is standing at right.
Then-Colorado Sen. Gary Hart at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem are at the table. Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder is standing at right. (Nancy Wong via Wikimedia Commons)

Meantime, the Monkey Business scandal is the subject of The Front Runner, a feature film directed by Jason Reitman, with Hugh Jackman portraying Hart. Coinciding with the film’s recent release, The Atlantic‘s James Fallows posited that the entire Rice episode may have been a setup orchestrated by Republican political operative Lee Atwater, who died of brain cancer in 1991.

Donna Rice Hughes says she’s working on a memoir.

Gary Hart went on to serve as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland in the Obama administration. And he remains married to Oletha Ludwig Hart, his wife of 60 years.

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

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