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‘K Street Project’ proves elusive

Psssst … want to hear a conspiracy theory?

For months, Washington pubs have claimed that the RIAA and the MPAA are considering Republicans for their top jobs as a result of a pressure campaign headed by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). This alleged campaign has come to be known as the “K Street Project,” for the area of town where lobbyists work.

If there’s one thing Hollywood doesn’t like, it’s taking orders from conservative politicians who accuse them of peddling violence and sleaze to children. And that’s precisely why reports that GOP strong-arm tactics are pressuring the music and motion picture industry to hire Republicans as their top Washington reps are so absurd.

It’s true that the Recording Industry Assn. of America named Mitch Bainwol, a major behind-the-scenes GOP strategist, to replace Hilary Rosen in the top spot earlier this past week. Upbeat and personable, Bainwol is known as a cool-headed strategist, not a rabid right-wing ideologue.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America is also considering a few key Republicans pols to succeed Jack Valenti, if and when the bionic showbiz icon decides to ride off into the sunset. Those under consideration are more moderate types when it comes to both style and substance. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), for instance, who can’t seem to shake speculation he might jump to the MPAA, is a former Democrat.

It is true that Bainwol’s hiring ends 16 years of Democratic reign at the RIAA. Rosen, an ardent Democrat, occupied the RIAA’s top spot for the last six years, and her mentor, Jay Berman, who once worked as a top aide for former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), helmed the org for 10 years before that.

Valenti, Hollywood’s venerable man on the Potomac for nearly four decades, was once a top aide to President Lyndon Johnson, but he also served the industry during four GOP administrations, earning respect and praise from both sides of the aisle.

But last year, one thing changed the political landscape in Washington more than during Valenti’s entire 37-year tenure. By taking back the Senate, Republicans solidified their power at the federal level, controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress.

It doesn’t take a grand right-wing conspiracy to know that Republicans rule the roost in Washington and that it might be a good idea to have a chief negotiator on your side who lawmakers know and feel a certain kinship toward. It’s just good business, and the multibillion-dollar-a-year showbiz industry knows a little something about that.