Compensation stalemate, another offer prevent move

This article was updated on Jan. 25, 2004.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) has declined an offer to succeed Motion Picture Assn. of America topper Jack Valenti as Hollywood’s leading man on the Potomac.

Instead, the popular pol is considering a more generous offer to become the pharmaceutical industry trade association’s top lobbyist.

Tauzin phoned Valenti on Thursday night to let him know his decision.

“It was a very flattering offer and it was a difficult to say no,” Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson told Daily Variety. “Billy has a great reverence for Jack Valenti, and they’re great friends as well. But at this point in his life, Billy did not believe this was the best fit for him and his family.”

The studios have been pursuing Tauzin seriously after a September vote of the seven studios comprising the MPAA. Tauzin was the top vote-getter and was expected to leave Congress after finishing the Medicare and energy bills.

Congress passed the Medicare bill before the winter recess last year, and lawmakers are expected to wrap up the energy bill in the next few months, but in the past few weeks congressional sources said they expected Tauzin to depart in March whether or not he wrapped up work on the energy bill.

The Washington Post broke the story on its Web site Friday evening, and Valenti issued a statement verifying the events.

“An offer was extended to Rep. Tauzin, and he phoned me last night to express his gratitude and to tell me he was given a very, very generous offer from another enterprise,” Valenti said. “Billy Tauzin is a longtime, dear friend and one of the most able members of Congress I have ever known.”

But the studios may not feel as amicable about the turn of events. Before news broke, word was leaking that negotiations between the MPAA and Tauzin had broken down because Tauzin wanted too much compensation. Valenti is one of the highest-paid lobbyists in Washington, pulling in more than $1 million a year, but Tauzin asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars more as well as a residence in both L.A. and New York.

“He was just over-reaching,” one source said.

Earlier this week, Tauzin canceled a fund-raising trip to Hollywood to benefit his colleague Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is running for the Senate seat Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) gave up to run for president. Tauzin’s spokesman said the trip was canceled because Tauzin’s stomach ulcer acted up and a doctor ordered him to curtail his travel.

The offer from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is said to be unprecedented for a Washington trade association. Tauzin currently chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees legislation affecting the telecom and media industries, as well as the pharmaceutical industry. PhRMA, which represents some of the largest drug companies in the world, lobbied hard for provisions passed in the Medicare bill that Tauzin shepherded through the House.

When the studios voted in September, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) was the second-highest vote getter and is now under consideration again. After the secret vote, Breaux, who will retire from the Senate in September, took himself out of the running for the job and left open the possibility of opening a lobbying shop with a GOP colleague and taking on the MPAA as a client. Breaux and Tauzin, who both hail from the Bayou state, are close friends and are moderate in their political leanings.

Late calls to Breaux’s office were not returned.

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