Chris Keane/ReutersRepublican presidential candidate Ron Paul
Zivity.com says it is “full of hotness” – an adult website loaded with Playboy-style images of aspiring supermodels, nude or in lingerie.
The social networking site allows “people just like you (to) rub elbows with models, photographers and video artists,” it says. For $9 per month, subscribers also are offered “exclusive access to model chats.”
This political season, Zivity’s 35-year-old chairman and co-founder has emerged among a handful of California money men supporting U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, 75, the Texas libertarian running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Scott Banister, a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded the San Francisco-based Zivity with his wife, has donated $2,500 to Paul’s low-budget campaign and another $5,000 to Paul’s Liberty PAC political action committee. Both are the maximum donations allowed by law.
In addition, Banister has put up a $1,000 prize for “the best short film to promote Ron Paul,” according to his posting on Prizes.org.
“I want something original, creative, and bold with people on screen,” he wrote.
Paul has raised only $310,000 in California for his long-shot presidential bid, but it got a boost last weekend. He won the straw poll at the GOP state convention in Los Angeles, beating better-funded Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
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Federal records show that besides Banister, only two other Californians have given maximum donations to both Paul’s campaign and his PAC this year.
In a phone interview, Banister described himself as a libertarian with strong interest in free speech issues.
Paul is the candidate most committed to “restoring the limits of the Constitution,” he said.
“I don’t really care if Ron Paul and I have exactly the same personal views about naked women on the Internet,” he said. “What matters is what he would do as an elected candidate.
“He’s very committed to following the limits of the Constitution.”
According to biographies posted online, Banister attended the University of Illinois. In 1996, he moved to California, where he became a board member of the online payment service PayPal. Later, he played a role in a series of successful Silicon Valley startups, including IronPort Systems, which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2007 for $830 million. Today, he describes himself professionally as an “entrepreneur and angel investor.”
He and his wife, Cyan, founded Zivity in 2007. People unfamiliar with the site mistakenly think it’s pornographic, he said.
“What we were doing at Zivity is absolutely about freedom,” he said.
“The reason Zivity was started was that there are actually a lot of women who really like to do glamour photography – it may involve nudity, and it may not.
“Especially when it involved nudity, there was really no venue for putting that online.”
Last year, Zivity announced that Playboy magazine had begun hosting model contests on the site, with winning models to be featured on Playboy.com. Among the contest themes were “Babes in Boots” and "Show Your Lady Gaga,” according to a press release.
In addition to his contributions to Paul, records show Banister this year has given $5,000 donations to the Senate Conservatives Fund; the Republican Party of North Dakota; and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ron Paul’s son and a spearhead of the Tea Party movement.
His wife gave $2,500 to Herman Cain, the former business executive who is the lone African American in the GOP presidential race, and $5,000 to Rand Paul.
During the 2010 Senate campaign, according to an Associated Press report, the Family Foundation of Kentucky criticized Rand Paul for accepting a $4,800 donation from Cyan Banister, saying, “A lot of Kentuckians would have a problem with a candidate accepting money from organizations that are tearing down the culture.”
Ron Paul’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment. Ron Paul strongly opposes abortion, but he also has suggested the issue should be handled by the states, an approach he has pushed regarding other social issues, such as illegal drugs and pornography.
Besides Banister, Ron Paul’s biggest California donors were Gary Turpanjian, identified as a Southern California lawyer, and Chris Rufer, owner of a Central Valley tomato packing business.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Republican presidential candidates have raised $3.6 million in California. Of that, $2.5 million has gone to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Donation totals aren’t yet available for Perry, the Texas governor and a recent entrant in the race.