Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Chris Dodd set off a firestorm of criticism last week when he suggested that Hollywood would withhold campaign money from President Obama and lawmakers who don’t toe the Hollywood line on online piracy.
Losing support of the entertainment industry would not be insignificant for the president: In 2011, DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million to Priorities USA, the super PAC backing Obama. Another major bankroller is Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films, who along with Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour last August co-hosted a $71,600-a-couple fundraiser for Obama at his New York home.
But so far at least, Party Time hasn’t detected any slowdown in the entertainment industry’s enthusiasm for the president, despite the White House’s decision to put the brakes on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Just a few days before the White House raised concerns about the legislation, which is being enthusiastically backed by the entertainment industry, Obama was raising funds at the New York City home of director Spike Lee.
In addition, Party Time records show a Feb. 7 Runway to Win fundraiser scheduled for the Obama Victory Fund 2012. Hosts for the event include: Wintour, actress Scarlet Johansson, hip-hop moguls Sean Combs and Russell Simmons, singer Beyonce, and fashion designers Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Vera Wang. Party Time records also show a Jan. 9 reception fundraiser in DC featuring featuring singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles. Both the fashion and music industries support SOPA.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the SOPA debate has set off a $100 million lobbying war. Both the entertainment companies who back SOPA and the tech giants who oppose it have lined up blue-chip lobbyists who are regulars on the Party Time circuit.
Former Rep. Victor Fazio, D-Calif., now a lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP, represents AT& T, a proponent of SOPA. He was one of the hosts at a dinner fundraiser benefiting Democrats Win Seats, the leadership PAC of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a SOPA supporter and the Democratic Party’s national chair. Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif and Ted Deutch D-Fla., both SOPA supporters, and Reps. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Bruce Braley, SOPA opponents, were listed among those scheduled to attend. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Judiciary Committee member and one of the four co-sponsors of PIPA, has had several fundraisers featuring lobbyists from tApple (has not formally stated a position on SOPA), the Motion Picture Association of America, Time Warner and Time Warner Cable.
And as we’ve previously told you in this space, companies backing SOPA have held several fundraisers benefitting Reps. Howard Berman, Adam Schiff, Joe Baca and Mary Bono Mack of California .
Not to be outdone, the tech industry, which sent a powerful message Jan. 18 about its distaste for SOPA on popular websites such as Google, Wikipedia and Craigslist, has been well represented on the Party Time circuit.
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., a member of the Judiciary Committee is one of the 27 co-sponsors of SOPA; on the day of the online protest, he issued a press release withdrawing his support, saying his constituents have “made clear” their opposition to legislation. Alex Vogel of Mehlman, Vogel and Castagnetti, who once worked for then-Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist, was one of the four hosts for Griffin’s reception in early December of last year. Vogel clients include CC Media Holdings, eBay Inc., Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and Yahoo! Inc. Yahoo! and eBay are opponents of SOPA. Also hosting the fundraiser were other lobbyists representing a range of communications interests, including some on both sides of the SOPA debate: Marc Lampkin, who represents AT&T, Microsoft Corporation, Sony Corporation and Visa Inc. Kathryn Lehman, who represents Google Inc. and Verizon Communications, and Susan Hirschmann, who represents Comcast Corporation, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Recording Industry Association of America; US Chamber of Commerce and Visa Inc.
Sen. John Cornyn R-Texas, the chairman National Republican Senatorial Committee and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee member, is another former backer of anti-piracy legislation who shifted his position. Cornyn’s Alamo PAC had two fundraisers featuring a lobbyist from Clear Channel, Verizon Communications and AT&T, all supporters of SOPA. But after the online protest, the Texan took to Facebook to share misgivings about the legislation those companies are backing.“Better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong. Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time,” Cornyn wrote.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., also once supported the anti-piracy bill but now opposes it. According to Party Time records, he had a fundraiser hosted by lobbyists Doyle Barlett and Becky Relic. Barlett represents clients such as Comcast Corporation, eBay, and the US Chamber of Commerce. Relic represents eBay. Another supporter-turned-opponent, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., had a fundraiser in which three of the hosts are lobbyists who represent Comcast, National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Time Warner Cable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
There are a few lawmakers who have not formally expressed a stand on SOPA. One example is House Oversight Committee member Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y. At his 25th Annual Taste of New York fundraising event, Towns had lobbyists representing both sides of the SOPA debate as hosts. Paul Braitwaite, a lobbyist for the Podesta Group represents Google, Time Warner Cable and the National Association of Broadcasters is listed as one of the hosts. The list of hosts for Towns event also included Roger Mott with Verizon Communications, Lyndon Boozer of AT&T, Matt Gelman of Microsoft and Jesse McCollum, a lobbyist with the Eris Group representing the Comcast Corporation.