SOPA supporters are cashing the media's checksDecember 21, 2011: 11:32 AM ET
Signees to the controversial proposed anti-piracy measure get twice as much campaign cash from media interests as they get from the tech industry, which vehemently opposes the bill.
By Dan Mitchell, contributor
FORTUNE -- The media industry, which wants to see the controversial Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) passed, has showered cash upon sponsors of the bill, far surpassing the amounts given by the Internet and tech companies that oppose the measure.
Proponents of the bill, which critics say would stifle expression and innovation, skirt due process and possibly create massive technical problems for the Internet, have given more than $1.9 million to SOPA's sponsors since the beginning of the 2010 election season, according to Maplight, a non-profit organization that "reveals money's influence on politics." Tech and Internet firms have given just $525,000 during that time.
The stark difference highlights not only Silicon Valley's relative lack of pull in Washington, but also the vast difference in approaches taken by tech and media when it comes to influencing legislation. Big Media, which has been embedded in national politics since before the silent-film era, relies on old-fashioned high-powered lobbying and money. Silicon Valley often emphasizes grassroots, Internet-based campaigning on behalf of its causes. Hence the loud and ubiquitous online outcry over SOPA, which so far has done little to slow the bill's progress through the House, though it has led to some amendments designed to appease critics, which include firms such as Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and Facebook.
So far, not much has changed. A markup session scheduled for Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee has been postponed, possibly due to scheduling problems related to the continued debate on taxes. The issue will almost certainly blow up again in January.
If the difference between the total political contributions of the two industries appears vast, so are the differences in the cases of many individual House members who have signed on as sponsors of SOPA.
For instance, Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, the Judiciary chairman and lead sponsor of the bill, got $133,050 from the media industry in the two years preceding July 1, according to Maplight. The tech industry has given him $59, 250. His top corporate supporter is Clear Channel Communications, which gave him $26,850. Time Warner Cable (TWC) gave $13,000. (Time Warner owns Fortune.) The National Cable Television Association contributed $16,000. Of his top 10 contributors, four are from the media industry. Smith said recently, "The Stop Online Piracy Act protects the profits, products and jobs that rightly belong to American innovators." (Is the order of those priorities a coincidence?)
Democrat Howard Berman, whose district encompasses Hollywood, got $328,400 from media, and $102,103 from tech and Internet companies. His top contributor was the Directors Guild of America, which gave him $26,899. Five of Berman's top 10 contributors belong to the media industry. Two more are law firms -- Akin Gump and Ziffren Brittenham -- that represent media companies. There is just one tech firm among those 10 -- Oracle (ORCL), which gave him $17,700. That's more than the $16,500 he got from Time Warner (TWX), and less than he got from Disney (DIS), which gave him $24,750.
None of which is to say that SOPA supporters as a group -- or even individually -- are outright bought and paid for by the media industry. Such an assertion would need to be accompanied by evidence of a quid pro quo, and as usual there is no such evidence in this case.
And not all supporters have enjoyed the same comparative levels of media beneficence as Berman or Smith. Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, got $73,819 from the tech and Internet industries, while media gave him $64,500. His No. 2 giver was Microsoft (MSFT), coming in after the Farm Credit Bureau. Media interests, either as a group or individually, don't even show up among the top givers to John Carter, Republican of Texas, or Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee.
Still, in case after case among House sponsors of the bill, media interests do rank at or near the top, while the presence of tech and Internet interests is usually either minimal or non-existent. That, together with Big Media's lobbying muscle, helps explain why a bill so widely derided for being dangerous actually has a chance of passing at least Judiciary, if not the full House.