Leahy caught in the Web

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Photo by Terry J. Allen
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Photo by Terry J. Allen

U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy found himself in an uncomfortable and highly unusual position last week. The Vermont Democrat, one of the Senate’s leading and most devout and revered liberals, became the target of a massive popular uprising waged from coast to coast by none other than American liberals.

The assault was instigated by Internet power players like Wikipedia and Google, who are opposing a piece of legislation designed to crack down on the online piracy of intellectual property, such as films and music. Leahy, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is chief sponsor of the bill, (S968), called PIPA, or the Protect Intellectual Property Act. A similar yet slightly different bill — SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act — has been introduced in the U.S. House.

Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and other Internet players told their followers that the two bills could potentially lead to censorship on the Web, threaten domain access rights and impair cyber security. Wikipedia shut down its site as an act of protest Wednesday. Tens of thousands took the bait, besieged Capitol Hill offices with phone calls and emails, and were so effective in their protestations that Senate majority leader Harry Reid postponed a procedural vote on the Leahy bill that had been scheduled for this Tuesday. Leahy’s office alone received 302 calls and 1,202 emails on the PIPA bill.

Leahy suggests that opponents of the anti-piracy measure are crying wolf when there is no wolf in sight. The brunt of the opposition to PIPA and SOPA, he says, is misdirected.

“Much of what has been claimed about the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act is flatly wrong and seems intended more to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions,” the Vermont senator said in a statement.

PIPA will not affect Wikipedia and other domestic websites that have “any legitimate use,” Leahy explained. Rather, the bill is aimed at what he called the “foreign rogue website…that has no real purpose other than infringement.” Foreign websites engaged in such infringement and piracy of U.S. intellectual property cost Americans billions of dollars annually, Leahy said.

Domestic Internet sites like Google claim that PIPA and SOPA would be costly and arduous for them to comply with because they would need to monitor their own sites for foreign piracy if the legislation were enacted.

“There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions in U.S. jobs,” Google said in a statement.

The alarm created by the Internet opposition to PIPA has caused some senators to withhold their immediate support for the legislation. Among them is Vermont’s other member of the Senate, Bernard Sanders.

“While I believe that online piracy is a serious issue, it is absolutely essential that the Internet remain open and free of censorship or the chilling effects that result in self-censorship.” Sanders said, in explaining why he has yet to come out in favor of PIPA. “I will not support legislation that results in censorship or self-censorship on the Internet.”

It would be difficult to accuse Leahy of supporting censorship of the Internet. “From the start of the Internet, he’s been a champion of Internet freedom,” David Carle, Leahy’s press secretary said. “He’s been the bridge between civil liberties and the law enforcement community.”

Leahy’s liberal credentials and his standing as a civil libertarian and defender of First Amendment rights are beyond question. Last year he received a perfect rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, one of only five senators to achieve such a ranking. (Sanders won a 95 percent rating to Leahy’s 100.) And the National Journal ranked Leahy and Sanders, along with seven others, the most liberal members of the Senate.

But there is another dynamic that may come into play here, and that is the inevitable force of the dollar in everything political in contemporary America. Leahy has received far more in campaign contributions from companies that support PIPA than from those that oppose the legislation, while for Sanders, the situation is reversed.

MapLight, a non-profit group that focuses attention on the pervasive role money plays in politics and on policy, reports that interest groups seeking passage of PIPA have donated $682,231 to Leahy’s coffers, while those working against the legislation have given him $176,075. Sanders, conversely, has received $158,746 from interest groups supporting passage of PIPA and $514,984 from those opposing the bill.

What’s more, many of Leahy’s most generous contributors are major supporters of PIPA. In fact, the five groups that have donated most to Leahy from 2007 to 2012 all are lobbying for passage of the legislation. They include Technet ($81,961), a group promoting innovation and technology; Girardi/Keese ($72,000), a large California law firm that specializes in intellectual property litigation; Time Warner ($62,150), the U.S. media giant that owns Warner Bros. movie studio; Walt Disney Co. ($45,150), the Hollywood film maker; and Vivendi ($36,706), an international media conglomerate that produces films and music.

As chairman of an influential Senate committee, Leahy receives big bucks from those on the opposite side of the PIPA fence as well. Google, for instance, gave the senator $21,600 between 2007 and 2012. And Intellectual Ventures, another major opponent of PIPA, was Leahy’s eight most magnanimous donor in that time span, contributing $28,400 to the senator’s campaign treasury.

Money doesn’t necessarily buy votes or support, but it often does acquire access.
In his role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Leahy has brought both sides into the negotiations over PIPA, the big film companies and music producers as well as the Internet firms and civil libertarians. “He’s been as inclusive as he can in shaping a compromise,” said Carle.

Now that PIPA has been put on temporary hold, Leahy will have to redouble efforts to forge a bill that can rein in piracy and convince the Internet companies and their supporters that censorship is not a legitimate concern. It won’t be easy. He’s caught between two opposing interests — the entertainment industry versus Internet companies and First Amendment supporters. He has been a strong advocate for both of those competing factions, and they have historically supported him. His status as a leading Senate liberal may rest on how skillfully he can bring about a compromise on his anti-piracy bill.

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Louis Berney

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  • Will Patten

    Great article.
    Shocking how much money incumbency attracts!
    I don’t think Leahy’s liberal credentials depend on PIPA though.

  • Bruce Post

    I was chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson when he ran for President in 1980. Because of security considerations, I became friendly with several members of the U.S. Capitol Police. One, in particular, was posted on the street corner nearest Anderson’s office, and when JBA would cross the street to vote in the House, officer Bobby, as I called him, would stop traffic so that Anderson and his Secret Service detail could proceed.

    The last time I saw this officer was in 1990. I was no longer working on the Hill and had come from North Dakota to attend a conference. I saw Bobby in the Longworth House Office Building, and we greeted each other. When I wondered aloud how he was doing, Bobby replied, “Terrible.” “Why?” I asked. “The money,” he told me, “just all the money up here.” I said, “Well, it was the same when I was here (ten years earlier).” “It’s worse,” he complained, “much worse!”

    This was now over twenty years ago, and the supersaturation of American politics with the financial contributions of the wealthy, the powerful and the connected is drowning whatever vestige of democracy we have left, not just at the federal level but all levels of government — federal, state and local.

    I am not accusing Pat Leahy of “selling out” on PIPA. He obviously has a defensible rationale for supporting it. Yet, Louis Berney highlights more than just PIPA; he dramatizes how money is like a slow-acting arsenic, poisoning our nation bit by bit until such time that America as an ideal is dead!

  • Leahy has never seen a big-brother police style program he couldn’t and wouldn’t support. Leahy, along with Welch and Sanders, has been an abysmal failure as a “liberal” or “progressive” legislator.

    Vote for him yet one more time at your own risk – I know I’ve sworn off voting for failure out of fear of the other side.

  • Kevin Wilkinson

    “Money doesn’t necessarily buy votes or support…”


    I’ve always thought it was pretty slick of Senator Leahy to have a moneyed constituency on the opposite side of the country. I have voted for him in the past and probably will continue to do so even though I think his bill stinks, seniority matters.

  • Patricia Crocker

    Term Limits would reduce much of this power play politics and assure that only those with a true interest in serving the public run for office.

  • Craig Powers

    “MapLight, a non-profit group that focuses attention on the pervasive role money plays in politics and on policy, reports that interest groups seeking passage of PIPA have donated $682,231 to Leahy’s coffers, while those working against the legislation have given him $176,075. Sanders, conversely, has received $158,746 from interest groups supporting passage of PIPA and $514,984 from those opposing the bill.”

    It is fascinating to see the numbers written above and shows that even the most liberal politicians are eating at the trough. All of those folks who continually hype how wonderful Bernie and Leahy are, and that they represent the 99%, should reconsider their hypocritical diatribes that those two are somehow looking out for the common man.

    Bernie and Leahy are just as bad as the rest of them. It would be exciting to study the list of the money donors. I imagine there probably is some money from those evil corporations mingled in there.

    Can you say hypocrite one hundred times fast?

  • James Dander

    This article is a real disservice to anyone who comes to the site to learn about this issue.

    For example, the author states in the first paragraph:
    “The Vermont Democrat, one of the Senate’s leading and most devout and revered liberals, became the target of a massive popular uprising waged from coast to coast by none other than American liberals.”

    Firstly, Senator Leahy is not a “liberal”, much less the most devout and revered in the senate (see his vote for NDAA last month, his vote for the Patriot Act, and his role as the lead sponsor of this legislation to name a few).

    Secondly opponents of this legislation are not conservative or liberal- they are simply people who care about economic growth in america and/or free speech in america and/or protection of civil liberties under the constitution and/or preserving the internet system as it now exists. This issue is not about liberals or conservatives and for the writer to frame it that way shows that he or she should not be writing about the issue.

    Please publish knowledgeable writers and stop cheapening the political discourse by distorting issues by categorizing them as “left” or “right” issues.

    When you feature this kind of writing on your website, you are just mimicking big media/mainstream media etc. and they lose more and more readers/watchers everyday (that’s why they’re supporting the legislation, duh!) so it’s strange for you, a competitor to big news, not to have better coverage on such pivotal legislation. Thank you.

  • “and his standing as a civil libertarian and defender of First Amendment rights are beyond question.”

    This statement of “fact” is in fact proof that this “journalist” (and by extension, Vt Digger) has questionable credibility, or very poor copy editing.

    Nothing is beyond question! And in this case, the statement above is DISGUSTINGLY FALSE.

    As several other commenters above, especially James Dander, point out, Leahy voted IN FAVOR OF the Patriot Act and the NDAA, both of which UNDENIABLY SHRED THE BILL OF RIGHTS AND THE CONSTITUTION.

    Wake up people. Leahy supports gay rights, while also supporting laws that REMOVE ALL OUR RIGHTS and establish martial law that allows the military to detain anyone indefinitely without trial or charges. Free Speech!? Yeah as long as you don’t say anything “suspicious.” What a joke.

    And now he’s pretending he didn’t know that PIPA and SOPA were Orwellian censorship bills disguised as being about copyright issues.

    I’m a liberal, free-thinking, civil-libertairian progressive-minded Vermonter and I will NEVER vote for Leahy again, as he has now proven beyond doubt that he is a neocon puppet of corporate influence just like 99% of the pols in DC.

    In fact, Leahy should be ARRESTED for VIOLATION OF HIS OATH OF OFFICE to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States, for his yes-vote on the Brave New World NDAA bill that Obama signed on Christmas.

  • And now Leahy is running around parroting BS from a right-wing think tank. Make that a DISCREDITED right-wing think tank. Here’s Pat’s claim:

    “The Institute for Policy Innovation estimates that copyright infringement alone costs more than $50 billion a year”

    The Institute for Policy Innovation you say? That sounds so… credible. Let’s visit, shall we?


    Nice tagline: “Advocating lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a smaller, less- intrusive government.”

    Their background: “The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) is a think tank based in Lewisville, Texas and founded in 1987 by Congressman Dick Armey to “research, develop and promote innovative and non-partisan solutions to today’s public policy problems.”Interesting.

    Their credibility: “The IPI was solicited by tobacco companies in 1995 to submit comments in response to proposed federal regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration restricting the marketing of tobacco products. IP responded by sending comments in favor of the industry to the FDA.”

    Ah. Well then.

    source: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Institute_for_Policy_Innovation

    The Formerly Awesome Senator from Vermont, reduced to a whore for Hollywood, spouting right-wing crap on his way out. The Revolving Door and Chris Dodd wait for you Pat. How very sad.

  • James Bressor

    Bruce Post has hit the nail on the head: the slow, poisoning effect of money is destroying our faith in America’s elected leaders.

  • mike olcott

    “Leahy suggests that opponents of the anti-piracy measure are crying wolf when there is no wolf in sight” IMO this is kinda like saying you have no need for a second amendment untill the police kick in your door to seize your guns. We took down Megaupload with our existing laws //i don’t agree with that either but thats another topic// We really don’t need more legislation that the real theives and pirates will evade with little or no effort. The problem is NOT piracy, the problem is a broken outdated copyright system that will never be able to address the issues in a digital world. Megaupload was a few months away from a deal with many artists that would have cut out the record compainies. // rant: isn’t ‘the cloud’ a cyberlocker-filesharing service too?//

  • Mike Kerin

    I’m not sure why I can’t get all the stories. What is going on?

    • Hi Mike,
      We had a technical glitch this a.m.
      Everything is back up now.
      Thanks for writing.
      Anne Galloway