While Hollywood gears up to celebrate itself at this weekend's Oscars, the movie industry has also been increasing its political influence and lobbying efforts on the other coast, according to a new report from a campaign finance watchdog group.
Researchers from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) found that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sharply increased its grant-giving to political nonprofit groups between 2009 and 2012, in an effort to push an anti-piracy bill through Congress. Some of the groups benefiting from the grants, which rose more than twentyfold during the period, are so-called "dark money" political groups that do not have to disclose their donors.
"Dark money is flooding the political landscape, and the MPAA is in on the game," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.
But MPAA spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said the group's change in spending was intentionally done to increase education efforts aimed at consumers, lawmakers and organizations that share an interest in promoting creative interests.
"Over the past few years, MPAA has set out to change the way we communicate to reflect the changes in the way audiences and policymakers are interacting with creators and content." she said. "We're talking directly with audiences through sites like TheCredits.org and WheretoWatch.org, and we're working with a wide array of stakeholders to better tell the story of our industry's substantial innovative contributions to American culture and the economy."
According to CREW, the MPAA heavily contributed to groups and politicians in favor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) between 2009 and 2012. Many tech companies fought the legislation, claiming the bills would impede innovation and lead to a more restricted Internet environment. Neither bill made it to the floor for a vote.
After the demise of SOPA and PIPA, the MPAA recruited former House Republican staffer Neil Fried as its lead lobbyist and increased lobbying spending in 2013 to $2.16 million, an 11 percent increase since 2012.
"In the past, the MPAA relied on glamour and private screenings to influence Congress. No longer. Now it is all about money and connections," Ms. Sloan said.
MPAA grants to outside money groups soared from $109,000 spent in 2009 to $2.4 million in 2012, a 2,134 percent increase, according to CREW's report.
CREW reports that in 2013 the MPAA also reported lobbying Congress on a wide range of proposals, ranging from federal appropriations to technology issues to a bill that would ban new private ownership of large cats that could potentially affect TV and film productions that use them.
However, the report shows that the MPAA's spending has been fairly even across the political spectrum.
During the 2010 election cycle, the MPAA gave money to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), but not the Republican Governors Association (RGA). But, during the 2012 election cycle, it gave $260,000 to the DGA and $260,000 to the RGA. Grants from the MPAA to party-affiliated campaign groups rose from $75,000 to $770,000 from the 2010 election cycle to the 2012 election cycle — an increase of more than 900 percent.
Two lobbying firms, Capitol Tax and Cove Strategies, are currently representing the MPAA. Capitol Tax has lobbied for the MPAA since 2001 and reported taking in $280,000 from the MPAA in lobbying fees in 2013. Cove Strategies was brought on to lobby in 2013 and reported $160,000 in fees. Cove Strategies' founder Matt Schlapp, was deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and is a former lobbyist for the business interests of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
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