RIAA taps Republican Bainwol lobbyist

WASHINGTON — A new era has begun at the Recording Industry Assn. of America with the hiring of a Republican as its top Washington lobbyist.

Mitch Bainwol, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), becomes the RIAA’s chairman-CEO Sept. 1.

The announcement Monday by the music industry’s trade group ends months of speculation about who would replace former RIAA topper Hilary Rosen, an outspoken Democrat who ankled the job June 30 after five and a half turbulent years.

It also ends 16 years of Democratic reign at the RIAA. Rosen’s predecessor, Jay Berman, a veteran of Democratic political circles, took the helm in 1987. Earlier in his career, Berman served as chief of staff to former Senator and onetime presidential candidate Birch Bayh (D-Ind.).

“I’m delighted to take on this role. It is an honor to be associated with such a talented and creative group,” Bainwol said Monday. “What could be more rewarding than helping to promote two great American traditions: music and property rights?”

Helped win back Senate

In naming Bainwol, the RIAA chose a savvy behind-the-scenes GOP operative who helped Republicans take back the Senate in 2002 as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Before that, he spent nine years as chief of staff to former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) .

After his success in Senate politics, Bainwol wanted to open his own lobbying shop. However, he shelved that plan last fall when he was drafted to help Frist find his sea legs as majority leader.

(Frist was voted in after former Majority Leader Trent Lott was forced to resign after making controversial racial comments.)

This spring Bainwol left the public payroll and established a lobbying practice, the Bainwol Group. Winning the lucrative RIAA post will sideline that plan again.

“Mitch brings to the RIAA the consummate insider’s understanding of political nuance in Washington,” said Roger Ames, chairman-CEO of Warner Music Group.

Insiders surprised

The appointment of Bainwol surprised some Hollywood insiders, who argued that a policy expert familiar with the intricate details of copyright and piracy law should land the high-profile post.

In recent years, Internet file-swapping sites have dealt a serious financial blow to the music industry and contributed to a 26% decline in CDs sales since 1999 — a $4.3 billion loss to the industry.

Rosen, who spent nearly two decades at the trade org, faced a rash of public criticism — even death threats — for her successful battle to shut down file-swapping pioneer Napster. She left the post to spend more time with her family.

Strong political links

What Bainwol lacks in hands-on experience in the biz, he makes up for in political connections.

The RIAA is banking that his success in helping several Republicans win their Senate seats will guarantee access and influence in Washington, where Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House.

“He has spent the last few years collecting chits that will definitely come in handy,” said one GOP Senate aide.

“Mitch Bainwol has the skills, leadership and relationships that this industry needs as we enter an extremely pivotal time,” said David Munns, CEO of EMI Music North America.

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