Last fall, while television news outlets were largely ignoring the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act during their evening news and opinion programming, their parent companies were busy paying an army of lobbyists to influence Congress on the then-pending legislation.
For months, the networks deemed subjects like Tim Tebow and the British Royal Family to be more worthy of evening coverage. Following criticism for ignoring the growing outrage over the bills, television media eventually devoted considerably more coverage to the widespread protests, website blackouts, and eventual shelving of both bills.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Comcast (which owns a controlling interest in NBC and MSNBC), News Corp. (Fox News), CBS Corporation (CBS), Time Warner (CNN), Disney (ABC), and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (a trade association that counts Comcast and NBC Universal as members, among others) hired 28 different lobbying firms to lobby Congress on SOPA and Protect IP.
Due to the opaque nature of lobbying disclosure forms, it's impossible to nail down the total amount of money these companies spent for lobbying on SOPA and PIPA. In some cases, the disclosure forms directly reference SOPA and/or PIPA. In other cases, the disclosure forms included clearly related phrases like "rogue websites" or "combatting foreign online piracy."
Combined, the organizations spent $182,500 on lobbying contracts with firms that lobbied solely on SOPA/PIPA, and an additional $2,022,500 on contracts with firms that lobbied on SOPA/PIPA in addition to a range of other issues. (When a disclosure form lists more than one lobbying issue, it is difficult to determine how much money was spent on each issue.)
ABC was listed as an official supporter of SOPA on the House Judiciary Committee website, along Disney Publishing Worldwide (and several other Disney properties), CBS, Comcast/NBCUniversal, News Corp., Time Warner and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
- Comcast alone hired 19 different lobbying firms to lobby on SOPA and PIPA. Comcast spent $90,000 on contracts with firms that lobbied solely on SOPA/PIPA, and an additional $1,027,500 on contracts with firms that lobbied on SOPA/PIPA in addition to other issues.
- News Corp. (and its subsidiary, News America Inc.) spent $265,000 on contracts with five different firms that lobbied on SOPA/PIPA in addition to other issues.
- Time Warner hired a lobbying firm for $62,500 to lobby only on SOPA and PIPA, and two other firms for an additional $100,000 to lobby on SOPA/PIPA as well as other issues.
- CBS paid a lobbying firm $75,000 to lobby on SOPA/PIPA as well as other issues.
- Disney's fourth quarter disclosure form indicates the company spent $1,190,000 on lobbying expenditures between October and December of 2011, and some of this money was spent to lobby on SOPA and PIPA.
- The National Cable & Telecommunications Association spent $30,000 to hire a firm to lobby solely on SOPA/PIPA, and paid $555,000 to eight other firms for lobbying on SOPA/PIPA in addition to a range of other issues.
Comcast, Time Warner, News Corp., Disney, and the NCTA did not respond to requests for comment. CBS Corporation declined to comment.