Disney Tries to Win Over Conservatives on Piracy

Posted February 16, 2005 at 6:41pm

In their latest attempt to win support among conservatives, Republican lobbyists for the Walt Disney Co. will venture into potentially hostile territory today when they take up positions in their booth at the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Lobbyists for the entertainment industry — including Republicans — have been increasingly on the outs with conservatives, who perceive Hollywood as a font of liberalism. But tensions between the camps escalated late last year when the ACU came out against tough new anti-piracy laws. The ACU argued that revisions to the law expanded too broadly traditional copyright protections.

Now, with the debate over piracy about to begin again, Preston Padden, Disney’s Republican executive vice president of government affairs, is hoping to play a conservative trump card to convert his party brethren. He’ll be touting respect for property rights.

With the help of three other Disney lobbyists, all of them Republican, Padden hopes to make a principled argument to the conservative activists roaming the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center today.

He said that while he doesn’t expect “any confrontation at all, I expect some people may be a little surprised we’re there.”

He added that he is “confident” that “the argument that property rights are property rights … will be well received.”

In case his pitch doesn’t connect on principle, though, Padden has enlisted cover by some heavyweight conservatives.

The idea to attend the conference came from none other than conservative guru Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist, an ACU board member, said the anti-piracy issue was too complex to simply pick a side. But he added he is “delighted” Disney is attending the conference and takes it as “a very healthy sign the business community is engaged with the center-right activist community on fights of principle.”

“We are now big enough as the natural governing party of the country that we have to have these debates within the party and within the movement,” he said. “That’s what this is.”

The conference, Norquist added, will also feature debates among conservatives on immigration, the Patriot Act, and gay marriage.

In the meantime, Padden recruited former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a longtime CPAC attendee, to appear Friday afternoon for a panel discussion titled “Download Wars: The Debate Over Intellectual Property Rights.”

Olson, along with such conservative stalwart groups as the Kids First Coalition, the Christian Coalition Of America, and the Concerned Women for America, filed a brief last month in support of the Motion Picture Association of America and others in a Supreme Court case addressing file-sharing.

Stacie Rumenap, the conference’s director, said that while she doesn’t expect everyone in the ACU to be converted, the association welcomes dissenting voices.

“We disagree on this issue,” she said. “We agree on others. We want to give our activists the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue.”

Padden’s Disney team will be joined by lobbyists from the MPAA, as well as Barbara Comstock, a Blank Rome lobbyist who represent the MPAA.