Republicans Sitting Pretty Atop Trade Groups

Bainwol at RIAA May Be Bellwether for GOP

Posted May 25, 2010 at 6:08pm

As Mark Twain once famously noted that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, K Streeters, it seems, jumped the gun in writing the obituaries of Republican trade association chiefs following the 2008 elections.

Despite Democrats’ hold on Congress and the White House, Republicans largely remain at the top of business lobbying organizations. And don’t expect them to go anywhere soon.

Case in point: the Recording Industry Association of America’s recent decision to re-up Republican Mitch Bainwol’s contract through 2012.

Bainwol, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has led the recording industry trade group since 2003, when he replaced Democrat Hilary Rosen. Bainwol, according to tax forms, earned $1.5 million in compensation in 2007. His current salary is not yet publicly available.

Unlike many lobby shops and law firms that moved to strengthen their Democratic ties after the 2008 elections, trade associations mostly have kept Republicans in the top slots while bringing in Democrats to the lower rungs of their in-house rosters.

Lobbying insiders said RIAA’s decision to stick with Bainwol may be a bellwether for how other trade groups will react to the changing political climate, especially given the expectations that Republicans will pick up seats in the House and the Senate in this year’s midterm elections.

There are several top jobs open at trade associations around town, including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Beer Institute, the American Health Care Association, the American Council of Life Insurers and the American Gas Association.

The National Association of Broadcasters similarly decided to hire another Republican, former Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.), last year.

Equal Opportunity

Notwithstanding RIAA’s and NAB’s decisions, headhunters said there hasn’t been a large-scale shift away from recruiting Democrats.

“I do think people are being more open- minded about either keeping Republicans or hiring Republicans as they sense the political tea leaves could change,” said Nels Olson of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. “But by no means is it a wholesale thing.”

McCormick Group’s Ivan Adler, a fellow K Street headhunter, agreed.

“Things are looking up for Republicans,” Adler said, adding that associations, corporations, and law and lobbying firms “are open to Republicans more than they had been since the Democrats took over.”

For his part, Bainwol said that he doesn’t wake up with his political party hat on.

“I am ‘Music Mitch,'” Bainwol said.

Still, one Democratic lobbyist who is familiar with the RIAA said the recording industry group can strategically benefit from having a GOPer at the helm. Bainwol’s Republican bona fides can help RIAA move beyond its traditional liberal base on issues such as performance rights and intellectual property, the lobbyist said.

Other K Streeters said Bainwol’s renewed contract may have less to do with party politics and more to do with how he has led the industry during a rocky patch.

Downsizing RIAA

Bainwol’s tenure has been marked by tough economic times in the industry. Record sales have markedly decreased. Since 1999, the recording industry has shrunk by about $6.5 billion. Last year, the industry as a whole did about $8 billion worth of business, according to Bainwol.

That contraction led Bainwol to downsize RIAA’s footprint. Last year, the group cut 31 employees, or about 20 percent of its overall staff, through layoffs and attrition.

RIAA’s government and industry relations operation is now nine people, including Democrat Cary Sherman, who is RIAA’s president, and RIAA government relations shop head Mitch Glazier, a Republican, and his deputy, Democrat Michele Ballantyne.

RIAA’s lobbying spending is also down this year. The group reported spending about $1.4 million in the first quarter, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports. That is down from about $1.8 million over the same period in 2009.

The decrease comes as the group’s lobbying spending has been cut since its height in 2008, when it spent about
$6.5 million on lobbying.

RIAA’s political action committee has also been down in recent years. After blowing past previous fundraising records in the 2006 cycle, when it raised $168,000, RIAA raised only $132,000 during the 2008 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The recording group has raised about $60,000 so far this cycle.

Bainwol said his operation is doing more with less. RIAA continues to aggressively lobby against broadcasters over performance royalties. RIAA wants legislation that would compel radio stations to pay performers for playing their songs.

The pitched battle got especially heated over the years when Bainwol faced off against GOP firebrand David Rehr, who ran NAB until last year, but NAB’s Smith said the two associations have taken a new path.

“We have a common interest, but we have a history somewhat counterproductive to our mutual interest,” Smith said. “We look for ways to make progress so that the radio and performers aren’t always on the opposite page.”