Senator given $100K round of applause by musicians’ group


Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a lawmaker who moonlights as a classical pianist, was honored in June along with the likes of the co-writer of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi." The senator was recognized not for his musical abilities, however, but for his support of the music industry. Alexander was the guest of honor at the National Music Publishers Association's annual meeting, an event attended by over 500 songwriters and music publishers — and one that cost the organization over $100,000 to host, according to the "honararia" section of lobbying records filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

Sen. Alexander, who co-chairs one of the more obscure Senate caucuses — the Senate Songwriters' Caucus — has proven an ally for the recording industry in the past. In 2004, he cosponsored the Songwriters Capital Gains Tax Equity Act, the basics of which were eventually enacted in 2006. That law allowed songwriters to pay a lower tax rate on income from their song catalogs. He also cosponsored the PERFORM Act (Platform Equality and Remedies for Rights Holders in Music), originally introduced in 2006. Had it passed, that bill would have put restrictions on digital and internet radio stations, requiring them to digitally protect the songs they broadcast so that listeners couldn't download or copy them. The senator has even endeared himself to the music community from the stage, playing at a benefit concert for the Grand Ole Opry.

Sen. Alexander is among a select group of legislators handed the NMPA's President's Award, which is intended to recognize those who work "diligently to strengthen intellectual property protection." Past recipients have been a bipartisan mix of Congress members, most of whom are also big favorites of recording industry donors. These include Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who co-sponsored the bill to lower income tax for songwriters.

Music industry groups have boasted in recent years that they have achieved legislative gains without racking up expensive lobbying bills. According to a press release on music publisher BMI's website, “the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) spearheaded [the 2004 bill] with a minimum of lobbying bucks, spending five years putting together relationships with lawmakers in the House and Senate, and convincing them that the change was needed.”

But that doesn't mean money hasn't changed hands. Sen. Alexander has been among the top beneficiaries of recording industry largesse, most recently bringing in $32,000 in donations for his 2008 Senate campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2010, recording industry donations dropped off considerably, but top recipients include Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), who co-sponsored the Capital Gains Tax Equity Act, and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Each took in more than $60,000 in music industry donations.