July 19, 2012

Batman As Bribery? Senator Leahy’s Movie Cameo Is A Conflict Of Interest

Batman As Bribery? Senator Leahy's Movie Cameo Is A Conflict Of Interest
Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Judiciary Committee, has made cameos in multiple Batman movies, including the one premiering this month.

Corruption comes in many forms. Sometimes special interests attempt to buy influence through disclosed campaign donations, but too often, influence is purchased through unorthodox giveaways to our politicians, from discounted mortgages, to free yachts, and promises of future jobs.

And in some cases, special interests gain a foothold by exploiting a lawmaker’s childhood fantasies.

Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) is chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee, which has wide sway over intellectual property law. This Friday, Leahy, a “lifelong fan” of the Batman comic book series, will make his second cameo in a Batman movie when “The Dark Knight Rises” opens in theaters.

As Demand Progress notes, Leahy’s appearance is a clear conflict of interest, given the movie industry’s intense lobbying for stricter intellectual property laws covering their products. Leahy, who has received over $900,000 in campaign contributions from the movie and music industry, attended a special screening of the movie last Sunday.

He was the guest of Warner Brothers Studio CEO Barry Meyer — the same Meyer whose company and its association (called the MPAA) has spent millions lobbying Leahy’s committee. In 2010, Meyer testified in front of Leahy on intellectual property legislation. His company is particularly interested in dual legislation known as SOPA/PIPA, which has attracted widespread criticism for its potential to give new powers to industry and government to broadly censor the Internet.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Leahy has been one of the movie industry’s most loyal proponents on Capitol Hill. In December, he boldly promised to lead a coalition to pass SOPA/PIPA — an effort that failed only because of one of the largest Internet grassroots organizing efforts in history.

We don’t begrudge Members of Congress having fun. But Leahy was not cast in the film because he’s big at the box office, or because there were no struggling actors who could have played the role better. (He’s not, and there are.)  Leahy was cast because Hollywood hopes that making him feel special will lead to more special favors in Washington.

Demand Progress, an advocacy group bringing attention to this issue, launched a petition yesterday evening called “Holy Conflict of Interest!”:

Hollywood is waging an ongoing war against the Internet by pushing bills like SOPA and encouraging the Department of Justice to shut down websites — and even imprison people — just for aggregating links to sites that the movie industry doesn’t like.

Hollywood spends millions of dollars trying to buy off politicians. They’ve even repeatedly let Senator Patrick Leahy — the sponsor of the Senate version of SOPA (called PIPA) and the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over most bills that Hollywood cares about — appear in their summer blockbusters. He’s in the Dark Knight Rises, and was also in the last Batman movie.

Tell congress members that we need them to stand up for Internet freedom — rather than inflate their egos by shilling for Hollywood and other corporate interests that want to censor the net.