The MPAA, Corruption and SOPA: The View From 1788

"An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth." Alexander Hamilton, the man on the $10 bill, writing on March 26th, 1788 in The Federalist No. 75.

The Founders of the American experiment - the deeply-idealistic but also deeply-practical authors of our radically new form of self-government - were obsessed with corruption.

Leaders like Alexander Hamilton (a skeptic of republicanism) and Patrick Henry (an anti-federalist) could find rare common ground with James Madison and Governeur Morris when it came to the threats to the integrity of self-government from corruption.

Preventing improper influence over government decision-making is a theme that runs throughout the Constitution. Still, as the Founding Fathers feared, corruption continues to seep into our form of government.

One (particularly brazen?) display of how business can corrupt government decision-making occurred at the end of the debate over the so-called "anti-piracy" bills SOPA and PIPA.

Specifically, when Chris Dodd, the chief lobbyist for the six major movie studios and a former Senator, appeared on Fox News on January 19th, 2012 to discuss the apparent failure of SOPA in Congress he was unusually blunt about what the movie studios expected for their millions of dollars in campaign contributions:

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake," Dodd said. "Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

Think for a moment about what lobbyist Dodd blurted out.

Essentially this former Senator acknowledged that the MPAA had paid for Congress members to be elected in return for their performance on behalf of the six studios.

Whether lobbyist Dodd's words rise to the level of a quid pro quo arrangement worthy of criminal investigation ("To the extent that large contributions are given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders, the integrity of our system of representative democracy is undermined.") - or whether he was simply frustrated and careless and misspoke about a non-criminal understanding - the fact remains that this is what the Founding Fathers meant by "corruption."

To the men who wrote the Constitution, the evil of corruption wasn't just that money could leverage specific bad actions (like passing a flawed bill like SOPA or PIPA). When the Founding Fathers wrote about corruption they were concerned with the way bias could actually change the moral attitude of an individual and a nation.

In the eyes of the Founding Fathers, the power of the MPAA to manipulate our political process - remember, in addition to their movie studios, their parent companies also have consolidated control over television and other media industries - might be seen as a form of corruption.

After all, once a politician accepts money from the MPAA, lobbyist Dodd has made it clear, that politician is expected to be compliant.

But that isn't where it ends. The MPAA also has the power to shift discourse. Even if they can't outright buy votes, they can still corrupt the public debate.

For example, once a Congressperson has taken a large donation from the MPAA - will he/she speak out against SOPA or PIPA - or will he/she slink away when the bill encounters problems, noting the change of position via twitter or facebook without taking a more public and principled stand?

It's increasingly clear that SOPA and PIPA are failing in Congress simply because these laws threaten what many Americans see as the best chance of creating jobs and growing the American economy - a robust internet.

But how many politicians will dare say that?

There is ample evidence that SOPA and PIPA got as far as they did in Congress because politicians - who admittedly didn't understand the technology or the proposed laws - were too compliant with the wishes of some of their biggest contributors.

And lobbyist Dodd has made sure that our legislators won't soon forget who pays for their campaigns and who controls the media they need to get re-elected.

If you're concerned about the corrupting influence of the MPAA on this debate and what lobbyist Dodd said on Fox News - here's a link to a petition you can sign.

UPDATE: January 25th, 2012 A petition has begun circulating, asking the Congressional beneficiaries of MPAA money to give the money back.

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