Portrait of a Leahy

pat leahy picture

To prevent Patrick Leahy from wanting the drone memos released, perhaps the Obama Administration should just have copyrighted them. Over the years, the longtime Vermont Senator and new President pro-tempore of the Senate has frequently fought for government transparency but against widespread Internet dissemination of pirated information.

In May 2011, for example, Leahy sponsored PIPA (the Protect IP Act), a bill that aimed to fight copyright infringement by censoring the Internet (blocking domain names.) PIPA was supported by nearly every film, TV, music and other media trade association; it was opposed by almost the entire Internet. After massive online protest, including a January 18, 2012, blackout of Wikipedia, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a vote on the legislation. Leahy responded:

But the day will come when the Senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem. Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy.

Leahy is on the subcommittee overseeing the Department of Commerce, which among other duties regulates patents and trademarks. This may explain his interest in media piracy as well as the wealth of contributions he takes in from media corporations. The Senator’s top donor, which has given a sixth of a million dollars since 1989, is Time Warner, the second-largest media conglomerate by revenue in the world. The largest one, the Walt Disney Company, ranked second on the Senator’s list with just over $150,000. Other contributors include French mass media firm Vivendi (sixth), which bought up Seagram’s (17th); the world’s fourth-largest media conglomerate Viacom (tenth) and its associated movie theater corporation National Amusements (15th); and humongous cable company and net neutrality foe Comcast (14th). Also involved in battles over copyrights and net neutrality are donors such as TechNet (fourth), which lobbies Congress on behalf of digital technology corporations; the world’s largest software company, Microsoft (ninth); Japanese electronics multinational Sony (18th).

The Department of Commerce regulates much more than media copyrights — patents and trade are also in its purview. That and his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee may be reasons that other Leahy donors include class action lawsuit kings Girardi & Keese (third) and Peter G. Angelos (fifth); multinational law firm DLA Piper (eighth), which has had former US Senators George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Tom Daschle (D-S. Dak.) on its staff; law firm and Metabolife lobbyists Patton Boggs (12th); international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (13th); patent trolls Intellectual Ventures (16th); and former K Street lobbying firm Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman (20th).

Rounding out Leahy’s top twenty donors are massive multinational conglomerate General Electric (seventh), with its headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut; defense and aerospace giant General Dynamics (11th); union insurers the American Income Life Insurance Company (19th).

Next week the Judiciary Committee takes up immigration reform, of which Leahy is a proponent. He and three of his Senate colleagues leaked their position last Wednesday:

“Our laws mandate detention or deportation for many people, denying them access to a hearing before a judge, without guaranteeing legal counsel for those who cannot afford it,” states the letter, which was provided early to HuffPost. “Immigration enforcement measures frequently target minority and immigrant communities through impermissible racial profiling that instills fear and distrust of law enforcement and makes communities less safe. Our system is not fair.”