The linkage between political funding and the major copyright lobby groups is not a new issue as for years there have been stories about how groups like the MPAA and RIAA fund politicians that advance their interests. Sites like OpenSecrets disclose the spending, though it gets complicated given how much money comes from individual companies or corporate executives. While those sites tell the story of how much, the recent leak of Sony emails reveal the how. They demonstrate the coordinated efforts by the MPAA to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for certain politicians with direct efforts from MPAA CEO Christopher Dodd to solicit donations from among the Hollywood studios. This will not be news to those who have been following Lawrence Lessig in recent years, but the matter-of-fact tone of these emails is still revealing.
Some of the examples include efforts by Dodd, a former Democratic Senator, to raise $40,000 per studio for Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte:
Call from Dodd re NRCC/Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte: Chairman Goodlatte has established a new fundraising committee that would allow contributions to his effort WITHOUT giving to the NRCC (all of the studios had the same sensitivity on this as we did). Dodd is likely to call you with this news, tell you that the studio should support with $40k each, and tell you about the tentative date/time for this fundraiser (likely a lunch on 11/22). Our PAC can give $15k, the rest would need to come from individual execs.
With respect to the timing of a fundraiser either just before/just after the LACS event, I understand Dodd will be calling board members early next week to make a fundraising push – both for Goodlatte and/or the NRCC (the expectation is an aggregate of $100k) and Orin Hatch and/or NRSC (also 100k, which smells a little bit like a Disney play regarding corp. tax reform). Given that we have given to these folks this cycle, I think much of this would have to be personal money versus PAC dollars – I’m evaluating and will circle back with details in terms of what could be absorbed by our PAC, but wanted you to have the state of play now. FWIW, I’ve told Joanna that I have doubts regarding our ability to meet goals if this is all personal $$$ (roughly 34k).
Another email noted that more money could be given to Hatch through the Sony PAC.
Fundraising is not limited to senators. There are also fundraising for members of the House of Representatives (this one for Karen Bass) and fundraising for state governors, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, which cost $10,000 per couple.
If that were not enough, there is also a strategy to expand the ability to provide funding to an MPAA political action committee:
MPAA membership expansion for PAC contribution purposes: For legal/structural reasons, the MPAA PAC can only solicit contributions from senior MPA execs and the member companies… This means that Dodd finds himself routinely on the other side of an enormous number of fundraising requests with roughly $50k a year to draw from. It’s not vetted yet, but I think he wants to float a concept that would allow the membership to change in such a way to allow more individuals to contribute to the MPA PAC (e.g., if there was some high-level producer or studio exec as a “member” of some sort then they could contribute individually, etc.). Depending on the approach, this would have FEC implications and labor relations implications – I think he understands that, but really wants to gauge reactions from board in terms of exploring viability of this.
What does all of this buy? The emails show lunch with the President of the United States, direct calls with the head of the USTR, and meetings with Prime Ministers (Spain, UK). Further, while there are no references to Canadian meetings in the Sony documents, I wrote in 2012 about meetings between Dodd and then-Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore, then-Foreign Minister John Baird, and then-Industry Canada Senior Associate Deputy Minister Simon Kennedy, all on the same day. The post included a briefing note I obtained under the Access to Information Act that discussed MPAA demands and the Canadian response.