Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Former lawmaker: Gaetz was against ‘revenge porn’ law
Said he believed ‘any picture was his to use as he wanted’
While serving in the Florida Legislature, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz opposed a bill meant to stop people from sharing sexually explicit images of their ex-lovers because Gaetz believed that recipients of those images had a right to share them, according to the sponsor of the legislation.
Former state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Republican from Brevard County, spent three years sponsoring legislation to outlaw nonconsensual pornography — sometimes called “revenge porn.”
And Goodson said Monday that Gaetz was the chief opponent to that legislation. Goodson said he remembered a meeting in which Gaetz said that if someone sends an intimate image to their romantic partner, then that image becomes the partner’s property to use however they want.
“Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson said. “He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”
Neither Gaetz nor his office responded to requests for comment Monday. The Panhandle Republican is reportedly under federal investigation over allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and that he and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg recruited other women online and paid them for sex.
Gaetz has said he has never slept with an underage girl nor has he ever paid for sex.
The Gaetz investigation, which emerged out of a sprawling criminal probe into Greenberg, has put a national microscope on Gaetz’s personal behavior
in Washington, where has been a member of Congress since 2017, and in Tallahassee, where he served as a state legislator from 2010 until 2016.
The Washington Post reported last week that Gaetz boasted to people in Florida politics about women he met through Greenberg, citing two unnamed people who said they heard Gaetz’s comments directly. Those people also told the Post that Gaetz had shown them videos on his phone of naked or topless women on multiple occasions.
CNN reported that Gaetz showed other lawmakers photos and videos of naked women that he said he had sex with — including while on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. CNN cited two unnamed people who said they had been shown the material.
Before he became a member of Congress, Gaetz was a prominent figure in the Florida Legislature, where he was a member of the House and his father served as president of the Senate.
That made Gaetz a powerful opponent to legislation he didn’t like — like the bill to outlaw nonconsensual porn, which happens when someone shares intimate photos or videos of former lovers without their consent. (Activists prefer that term to “revenge porn,” because the word revenge suggests the person in the images did something deserving of retaliation.)
Beginning around 2013, activists spent at least three years trying to pass a nonconsensual pornography law through the Florida Legislature. But they had trouble getting by Gaetz.
In 2014, for instance, a bill cleared two Senate committees and the full Senate by unanimous votes. But the House version of the legislation, which attracted 17 co-sponsors, was never given a hearing in the first committee it was assigned to — a committee that was chaired by Gaetz.
It was around that time that Goodson said he had the meeting with Gaetz in which Gaetz said he felt that intimate images voluntarily sent to someone were the recipient’s property to use however they pleased.
Goodson said the meeting was between he, Gaetz and the late Sandy D’Alemberte, a former state legislator and Florida State University president and law professor who died in 2019.
At the time, several other lawmakers and lobbyists who worked on the issue said privately that Gaetz was the chief antagonist to the legislation, though nobody would say so publicly.
“If you crossed him, he was after you,” Goodson said Monday.
The nonconsensual porn legislation finally passed in 2015, clearing the state House on a 114-2 vote. The only two no votes were Gaetz and former Republican state Rep. John Tobia, who was one of Gaetz’s roommates in Tallahassee and is now a Brevard County commissioner.
But even then, the House significantly weakened the legislation before approving it.
For instance, the Senate version of the bill would have made it illegal to post explicit photos or videos without someone’s consent or to email or text them to others. The House narrowed the bill down so that it only outlawed posting the images to websites — emailing or texting them to others remained legal. The Senate was forced to accept the House’s weakened version of the bill because the state House abruptly ended its session early that year amid a broader fight over whether to expand Medicaid coverage to more low-income Floridians.
“We passed a less-than-adequate version [of the law] as a result of the fact that the House went home,” former state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said Monday.
The Legislature didn’t pass another bill strengthening the state’s nonconsensual porn law until 2019 — after Gaetz had moved on to Washington.
“Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted.”
Former state Rep. Tom Goodson