The lifeblood of democracy

Did you know that ASCAP has a political action committee? (If you’re unfamiliar with American politics, PACs are any private group organized to spend money in order to influence elections—most are affiliated with an interest group, corporation, or union.) The ASCAP Legislative Fund for the Arts, to call it by its official title, isn’t nearly on par with the big PACs, but they still dished out $157,950 to assorted candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The winners in the House of Representatives:

$5,000 (maximum permitted under law)

  • Howard Berman (D-CA)
  • $4,500
  • John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI)
  • $4,000

  • Steve Chabot (R-OH)
  • Howard Coble (R-NC)
  • Edward Markey, Jr. (D-MA)

  • In the Senate:


  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Edward Kennedy (D-MA)
  • $3,500

  • Kent Conrad (D-ND)
  • $3,000

  • Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
  • $2,500

  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)

  • (See the whole list here.) It’s about 2-1 in favor of Democrats, although ASCAP hedges its bets by favoring Republicans on the soft money side, if the last few available cycles are any indication. (Interestingly, BMI, which has a smaller PAC of its own, favors the GOP for both candidates and soft money.)

    I was looking into this in the wake of the whole Internet radio royalty mess, wondering if ASCAP had taken a stand one way or another—although, given that a federal court just shot down an ASCAP assertion that a download of a song is a “performance” for royalty purposes, I would guess that they’re not on the side of the little guys. Still, not a word on the subject is to be found on ASCAP’s website. (Interestingly, no mention of their PAC, either—the one result via a search seems to have been removed from the actual page.) Here’s an indication, though: Reps. Jay Inslee (who got $1,000 from the RIAA last year—you bite that hand that feeds you!) and Don Manzullo have introduced H.R. 2060, which, if enacted, would overturn the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision; As of this morning, the bill had attracted 51 co-sponsors—of which only four received ASCAP money (and none of whom got anything from BMI). I don’t think ASCAP and BMI are actively working against the bill—I don’t think they have to. They’ve been supporting candidates who already are inclined to back up SoundExchange. I’ll predict that they’ll remain eerily quiet about this whole thing.

    I know that composers of what ASCAP somewhat euphemistically calls “Concert Music” make up a comparatively small part of their membership, but if they and BMI were really serious about supporting all their composers, artists, and publishers, they’d be using some of their clout to make sure that the Internet, the best distribution channel to happen to new and avant-garde music in a hundred years, isn’t scorched into an arid wasteland of major-label pap by industry organizations who will go after anyone broadcasting your music whether you want them to or not. It’s probably asking too much, but when ASCAP president Marilyn Bergman (full disclosure: I rather like “The Way We Were”) tells us:

    [W]e have to be wary of the well-spoken hucksters out there trying to trick us out of the most fundamental right we have, the right to control the uses of our own work, and the right to be fairly paid for those uses

    I hope she’s making room in her organization for those of us who count the RIAA as one of those hucksters.

    By the way, the most reliable classical supporter of ASCAP’s PAC? Philip Glass.

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