SOPA Sponsor Smith Cleans Up: the Money Behind the Texas 21 GOP Primary

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Unlike the legislation he sponsored — the Stop Online Piracy Act — Texas Rep. Lamar Smith survived the slings and arrows of the Internet’s anti-censorship advocates on Tuesday and handily prevailed in his GOP primary race.

Smith won 76 percent of the vote over challengers Richard Mack and Richard Morgan, demonstrating advantages both electoral and financial.

A member of the House for the last quarter-century, Smith was targeted by some parts of the Internet community after they succeeded in killing SOPA in February with boycotts, petitions and blacked-out home pages on such popular sites as Wikipedia and Reddit. The bill would have allowed the government to block foreign sites that linked to or hosted copyrighted material.

But companies and industry groups that had lobbied for SOPA — including some that hired the lobbying firm run by Smith’s former chief of staff — contributed heavily to Smith’s campaign.

Smith raised $1.3 million, almost half of which came from PAC donations, an indication of his institutional support. That totaled more than 25 times Mack’s $50,000 take; Morgan came in at just $9,464, more than half of which came from his own pocket, according to Center for Responsive Politics research.

The fundraising disparity between Smith and his opponents was just the latest display of the benefits of incumbency: In the 2012 election cycle, current House members have raised an average of nearly $1 million, while challengers have averaged about $140,000.

While SOPA was a liability for Smith in many corners of the Internet, some of his biggest donations came from the PACs and employees of companies that supported the legislation. Comcast, which lobbied heavily on both SOPA and its Senate companion, PIPA, gave $5,000 in PAC funds to Smith, according to CRP research. And Time Warner, which also lobbied on both bills, has given $6,000 to Smith’s campaign through its PAC.

Top executives from broadcast giant Clear Channel Communications — which hired Smith’s former Chief of Staff Joseph Gibson to lobby on the bill — donated $18,300 to Smith’s campaign. Smith received $10,000 in PAC money and $10,363 from employees and executives of Express Scripts, a health services company that also hired Gibson to lobby on SOPA.
Industry trade groups also pitched in: The National Association of Broadcasters PAC contributed $5,000 and the Recording Industry Association of America‘s PAC gave $3,000 to Smith’s campaign, with RIAA executives chipping in another $2,000 in personal funds. Another PAC contributor to Smith’s campaign is well known to opponents of SOPA: Go Daddy, the domain hosting service that reversed its support of SOPA in December 2011 after a Reddit-led boycott. The company’s PAC gave Smith $5,000 in the months before SOPA’s introduction in the House last fall.

Internet-based opponents of SOPA tried to weaken Smith with outside spending. Test PAC — a committee formed by Reddit users — selected Smith’s primary campaign as its first target following discussion among the site’s commentors, and spent about $18,500 on a direct mail campaign, television advertisements, and an anti-Smith billboard on San Antonio’s stretch of Interstate 10, according to CRP research and FEC disclosure forms. In another example of crowdsourced messaging, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian funded a billboard outside Smith’s office using group-funding website Crowdtilt. It featured the slogan “don’t mess with the Internet” splashed on a Texas flag.

In this race, though, it was Smith who wouldn’t be messed with.

Photo: Wikipedia
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