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Anti-Foley blogger speaks out

Times Staff Writer

Lane Hudson had no idea he would bring down a congressman when he sat in his living room and turned on his laptop one Sunday morning nearly seven weeks ago.

The former congressional aide, who is gay, had been railing for weeks on his anonymous blog against congressmen who sexually preyed on young people. That day in late September, he decided to post a series of suggestive e-mail exchanges between Rep. Mark Foley and a male former congressional page.

“I thought, ‘Here we go. Let’s see what happens,’ ” Hudson, 29, said in a recent interview.

Within days, he had his answer.

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Foley, a six-term Florida Republican, resigned in disgrace. And Hudson had launched the biggest Washington sex scandal since Monica S. Lewinsky.

Hudson remained anonymous throughout the fall as the scandal raged and GOP leaders complained of a Democratic conspiracy. Then two weeks ago, he was unmasked by bloggers, who identified him as an organizer for a national gay rights group; Hudson was fired.

‘No one did anything’

On the terrace of a hotel in Miami Beach, where he went to escape the political storm, Hudson for the first time talked publicly about his role in the Internet-fueled scandal.

Occasionally defensive and slightly ill at ease, the ambitious South Carolina Democrat fiercely denied a preelection plot. Rather, he said, he was driven by genuine anger at a corrupt environment that protected the powerful on Capitol Hill.

“It’s the Washington culture that allowed this to happen,” he said. “Now we know the FBI, a host of media organizations, Republican leadership -- all were in possession of this same information. And no one did anything about it.”

Hudson, who will not say where he got the e-mails, shared them with the Los Angeles Times in July. He posted them anonymously in September, he said, frustrated that the paper was still conducting research and had not published an article.

Hudson’s rise to political muckraker and minor Web celebrity did not happen overnight. He has been working phones and knocking on doors for Democratic candidates since his mother took him to volunteer for a relative of his second-grade teacher who was running for the South Carolina Legislature.

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“My mother said, Republicans take care of the rich and Democrats take care of everyone else. And we were everyone else,” said Hudson, who grew up in the state’s cotton country.

Hudson volunteered for candidates through high school and college, including the head of his alma mater. “He was a whirling dervish,” recalled Alex Sanders, former president of the College of Charleston, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate four years ago.

Hudson moved north in 2001 to join the D.C. staff of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina’s last Democratic senator, but he couldn’t get to the center of the action in Washington and didn’t stay long.

Hudson tried jobs raising money for an Episcopal school in Washington and worked at a bank in Charleston, S.C. In 2004, he went to Wisconsin to work for the unsuccessful presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

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“He wants to be involved.... And he really believes in the campaigns he works in,” said Liz Patterson, a former South Carolina congresswoman for whom Hudson volunteered in high school. “But the campaigns he has worked on, we haven’t won.... I think he’s still trying to find his place.”

This summer, Hudson moved back to Washington.

Then he acquired the e-mails.

Hudson will say only that the e-mails “weren’t hard to come by.” Since the scandal broke, it has become clear that numerous media outlets, Republican House leaders, a government reform group and the FBI had them.

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Those e-mails -- all to a former page from Louisiana -- were not sexually explicit. But in one, the congressman asked the boy for a photo and, in another, commented that a different former page was “in really great shape.”

Memories triggered

Hudson said he knew immediately that something wasn’t right.

Eleven years earlier, as an 18-year-old congressional intern, Hudson had been approached by Foley at a Capitol Hill bar, Hudson said. The congressman asked Hudson for his e-mail address and started sending him invitations to drinks and meals.

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“Honestly, I had forgotten about the whole incident,” Hudson said. But this summer, a former page mentioned in a casual conversation that Foley “hit on him all the time.”

“It kind of clicked in my head,” Hudson said. “I asked another friend who had been a page. I heard the same kind of story, and realized that this guy is just a real creep.”

Hudson contacted The Times and, without disclosing his plan to the paper, started an anonymous blog he titled Stop Sex Predators.

“This blog is dedicated to exposing sex predators before they can get to our kids,” Hudson announced in his first posting, July 28.

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Breathless posts would follow, recapping congressional sex scandals dating to the 1970s and decrying sexual liaisons between interns and older Washington officials.

“The blog was my backup,” Hudson said recently. “The blogosphere isn’t subject to the same rules as the Washington culture, as the mainstream media.”

Just after 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 24, Hudson put up the Foley e-mails.

“This is absolutely amazing ... ,” he wrote that morning. “There must be even more out there. E-mail me ... and let me know what we should do!!!!”

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By that Wednesday, Wonkette, a popular Washington gossip site, had linked to Hudson’s blog. On Thursday, ABC News posted an article on its website.

And Friday, after the network confronted Foley with a series of sexually explicit instant messages between the lawmaker and a different former page, Foley resigned.

“Wow!” Hudson titled a posting that night. In it, he said: “This is a good start.... Maybe we can keep stopping them!!!!!”

Scary response

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But the sense of triumph faded as Hudson was deluged with e-mails from journalists and others trying to find out who he was and what he knew.

“Thank you for your interest,” he said in a posting a few days after Foley’s resignation, “but if you were doing your job to begin with, Mark Foley would have been exposed a long time ago.... I’m nobody that anybody should care about. So, please, go about your day as if I don’t exist.”

Hudson said he got warnings that he should watch his back. “I kind of got scared,” he said.

He scaled back his Internet postings.

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And then someone found him out.

Tracking Hudson’s Internet profile, a blogger traced him to Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay political organization.

On Oct. 25, the group fired him. Vice President of Programs David M. Smith praised Hudson’s work but said he had violated policy by using a Human Rights Campaign computer to work on his blog.

Hudson flew to New York and then to Miami.

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“You know, I had no interest in being public about this,” he said last weekend in Miami Beach.

“This was about exposing someone who was a sexual predator. And that’s it.

“It’s like it’s accepted to come to D.C. and have high ideals and believe in something and then have it go away,” he continued. “This whole Washington culture allows that to happen. It’s not only accepted, it’s expected that people become callous and lose their ideals and their focus. And that makes me mad.”

Hudson said he was apprehensive about what would happen next.

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But he has few regrets. “I did the right thing,” he said.

And by election night, he was back in Washington to celebrate the Democratic victories.

noam.levey@latimes.com


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