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Pasco nudists recall 'hypocritical' campaign

Foley's attempt to close Lake Como's kids camp in 2003 failed. Naturists are asked now not to gloat.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published October 3, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Three years ago, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley demanded that the state investigate a summer nudist camp for kids in Pasco County, warning it could expose innocent children to pedophiles.

After reading a news item about the camp in the New York Times, Foley, a U.S. Senate candidate at the time, sent letters to Gov. Jeb Bush and Attorney General Charlie Crist in 2003.

"The situation clearly raises legitimate issues that should be addressed, given that it involves minor children," Foley wrote, citing his post as co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus.

Foley compared the camps to child pornography and child modeling Web sites and wrote: "I believe they may be endangering these children."

Recent revelations of Foley's sexually explicit e-mails to underage male pages on Capitol Hill carries a special resonance with the nudists who say Foley maligned them as child pornographers.

"I just find this very hypocritical," said Shirley Mason, a longtime naturist in Miami. "There is no correlation between people who skinny-dip and perverts who want to harm children."

Mason said she was especially troubled by news reports suggesting that Foley was sending suggestive e-mails to pages as early as 2001, two years before he targeted the nudist camp.

"If you see evil in everything, chances are there's evil within you," Mason said.

Foley's high-profile campaign to close the camp brought a windfall of publicity, but little more. State authorities concluded the camp operated legally and that children were separated from adults.

The camp at Lake Como in Land O'Lakes was run by the American Association for Nude Recreation and remained open after state authorities decided it was operating legally. Florida law allows underage nudity as long as it is not lewd.

"We are unaware of any reports of criminal acts or child abuse, neglect or exploitation," responded Bush's general counsel, Raquel Rodriguez.

Her letter cited a Florida Supreme Court decision in which justices drew a legal distinction between parents who practice nudity as a lifestyle and parents who exploit children for monetary or sexual gain.

A spokesman for Crist said the office had no record of the attorney general responding to Foley's letter, most likely because the governor's office answered it.

In the summer of 2003, Foley trumpeted his call for an investigation on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, Fox's The O'Reilly Factor, CBS's The Early Show and ABC's Good Morning America.

He even launched a Web site in which he invited people to send their complaints about the camp. The site no longer exists.

Eric Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association for Nude Recreation, e-mailed the group's members after the Foley scandal broke, cautioning them not to gloat over their former critic's downfall.

Three years ago, Foley "took less than an hour to frame an incorrect impression of those camps," Schuttauf wrote. "As a credible voice of reason for nude recreation, we will not make the same mistake."

Staff writer Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505.