Contending with conservative freshman in Congress

When Democrat Chris Dodd takes over as Hollywood’s chief lobbyist this week, he’ll face a Congress much different than the one he just left.

Studios chiefs chose him not just for his stature, but his ability to work both sides of the aisle, in many ways a throwback to the days when politics wasn’t so personal, when his good friend Ted Kennedy could have an unlikely bond with ideological foe Orrin Hatch.

But while those relationships are strong in the Senate, in the GOP-controlled House there’s a record number of freshmen, most of them conservative and many of them affiliated with the Tea Party movement. Dodd also played major roles in two pieces of legislation that were Tea Party targets: Wall Street reform, which he co-authored with Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and healthcare reform, for which he played a major role in its passage.

“He is going to have to meet a lot of those people and develop a lot of relationships” in the freshman class of Republicans, says Dan Glickman, Dodd’s predecessor at chaiman and CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. “But he is very skillful at those things. For an astute political figure, he should have no problem with that.”

Glickman had the unenviable experience of being a Democrat when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House when he assumed the post in 2004.

With Capitol Hill consumed by the budget debate, it’s unclear how freshmen will respond to pending copyright legislation, such as a bill that is expected to be introduced to curb so-called rogue websites. Even as Hollywood overwhelmingly leans to the left, particularly in campaign contributions, such issues have traditionally garnered bipartisan support, and a version of the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously in the lame duck session, with Republicans championing it as a matter of property rights. But opponents of the legislation have been trying to appeal to the GOP’s libertarian streak as characterizing it as further government intrusion.

“He’s going to have to educate, to make certain that protecting intellectual property is more important than idea that (the bill) is more government regulation,” says Quinn Gillespie’s John Feehery, a former exec with the Motion Picture Assn. of America who was charged with reaching out to Republicans. Working in Dodd’s favor, Feehery says, is that he has a “great personality, and people instinctively like (him).”

With lobbying rules limiting Dodd from actually pressing lawmakers to support a piece of legislation, Feehery suggests that the org may have to hire a staff who can liaison with the new class of conservatives. The bigger task, Feehery says, is reviving the org after a long period of uncertainty. “He needs to move quickly to put his mark on the organization,” he says.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a friend of Dodd’s, says he expects to reintroduce the rogue sites legislation “soon,” and there is expectation that his counterpart in the House, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is onboard to bring up the bill in the House Judiciary Committee. An indicator of sentiments could come on Monday, when a House subcommittee takes up the issue in a hearing. Leahy says that Dodd “is someone who is indefatigable about getting into the issues. I am very satisfied in my mind they made the right choice.”

Republicans championing it as a matter of property rights. But opponents of the legislation have been trying to appeal to the GOP’s libertarian streak, characterizing it as further government intrusion.

“He’s going to have to educate, to make certain that protecting intellectual property is more important than idea that (the bill) is more government regulation,” says Quinn Gillespie’s John Feehery , a former exec with the MPAA who was tasked with reaching out to Republicans. Working in Dodd’s favor, Feehery says, is that he has a “great personality, and people instinctively like (him).”

With lobbying rules limiting Dodd from actually pressing lawmakers to support a piece of legislation, Feehery suggests that the org may have to hire a staff that can liaison with the new class of conservatives. The bigger task, Feehery says, is reviving the org after a long period of uncertainty. “He needs to move quickly to put his mark on the organization,” he says.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a friend of Dodd’s, says he expects to reintroduce the rogue sites legislation “soon,” and there is expectation that his counterpart in the House, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is onboard to bring up the bill in the House Judiciary Committee. Leahy says that Dodd “is someone who is indefatigable about getting into the issues.”

In the new Congress, that’s not a bad trait to have.

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