Nicole Seligman's newly official promotion to president of the Sony Corporation is the latest evidence of the powerful political connections that have been amassed by interests battling to stop online piracy, and enhances the status of what might be called SOPA's power couple.
Seligman, who as Sony's vice president and general counsel was an outspoken advocate for the entertainment giant's intellectual property rights, is the wife of Joel Klein, a former Justice Department top gun who in 2010 left his post as chancellor of New York City schools to hire on with another corporation that has been leading the fight for more regulation of the Internet: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Sony is one of the many entertainment companies lobbying for enactment of the Stop Online Piracy Act, more commonly known by its acronym, SOPA. If anything, News Corp., owner of 20th Century Fox, has been an even more ardent advocate for the law, which critics insist could stifle innovation on the Internet. Murdoch has taken to Twitter to rail against President Obama and Congress for having “sold out” the entertainment industry to “big search engines” after the White House recently flashed a caution light on the SOPA bill.
To say that Seligman and Klein are politically well connected is an understatement. Seligman, whose high-profile client list includes former President Bill Clinton has been a close friend of Caroline Kennedy, since the two were roommates at Harvard University's Radcliffe College. The friendship between the couple and the former first daughter, who has been emerging as a political rainmaker in her own right, has been the stuff of some cheeky tabloid headlines.
Since 2000, a compilation of records from Sunlight's Influence Explorer shows that Seligman has has given more than $73,000 in political contributions, all to Democrats, including $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $3,500 to the gubernatorial campaign of Eliot Spitzer, who later had to resign the job in a prostitution scandal. She gave more than $12,000 to Hillary Clinton, even though the former New York senator — now secretary of state — reportedly has frosty relations with Seligman's former college roommate.
Last September, just a few weeks before SOPA was introduced in the House, Seligman Seligman made a $1,000 contribution to Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat who is one of the bill’s original cosponsors. Berman represents Hollywood and faces a tough June primary fight against a fellow veteran Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman. The two have been thrown into the same district by a nonpartisan commission that redrew California’s congressional district map to conform with new population shifts measured by the 2010 Census. Sherman signed onto the SOPA bill as a cosponsor in December.
Sony employees have given $10,000 to Berman and another $10,000 to the Motion Picture Association of America this campaign cycle. All but one of the senators who are among top Sony beneficiaries this cycle are cosponsors of the Senate companion to the SOPA bill.
Klein rocketed to national prominence for his successful antitrust prosecution of the Microsoft Corp., and won further praise for his stewardship of the New York City schools under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Like his wife, Klein supported Democrats almost exclusively — but made a rare exception last year after joining the outspokenly conservative Murdoch's empire, where the New York Times recently estimated his compensation at $4.5 million. In December, Klein gave $1,000 to TRUST PAC, a committee associated with Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. His contribution helped make News Corp the biggest benefactor of the Upton PAC, according to data compiled by Open Secrets.