Dodd to head Hollywood trade group

WASHINGTON–Former Sen. Chris Dodd has officially been tapped as the next chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, making him the face of Hollywood in Washington.

The job, which reportedly comes with a $1.5 million annual paycheck, would put Dodd in charge of a high-profile Washington trade association. The MPAA spent $1.66 million last year to lobbying Congress and the White House on a wide range of issues, from copyright protections to tax issues.

“It’s one of the marquee trade associations in town,” said John Feehery, a former MPAA government and communications strategist. “Movies are part of America’s soul. And I think for someone like him, he probably sees it as a big challenge. They are searching for the next Jack Valenti.”

The MPAA has been trying to fill its top lobbying job for about a year, ever since former congressman Dan Glickman left the MPAA. Glickman replaced Valenti, who ran the advocacy group for 38 years and was a larger-than-life presence in Washington.

“Senator Dodd is a battle tested leader whose reputation as a strong leader on major issues facing this country has prepared him to serve as the Ambassador for the movie business,” Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jim Gianopulos said in an MPAA news release Tuesday.

Dodd was not available for an interview Tuesday, said an aide, Mike McKiernan. The Connecticut Democrat, a 36-year-year veteran of Washington politics whose last full day in the Senate was Jan. 4, had been rumored for months to be the association’s top choice.

In the MPAA statement, Dodd said: “I am truly excited about representing the interests of one of the most creative and productive industries in America, not only in Washington but around the world. The major motion picture studios consistently produce and distribute the most sought after and enjoyable entertainment on earth.  Protecting this great American export will be my highest priority.”

It’s an extension of the work he did in the Senate, Dodd said, “from advancing the interests of children and families and creating and safeguarding American jobs to the protection of intellectual property and the expansion of international trade.”

Dodd said in an interview last year that he did not want to become a lobbyist. And he is legally barred from registering as a lobbyist for two years.

It’s unclear how he will reconcile that with this new post, which involves political advocacy, among other tasks.

“In terms of specifics, I’d have to leave that up to him to talk to you about,” said Howard Gantman, an MPAA spokesman. But, he said, “we do expect he will be a strong advocate on behalf of the entire entertainment community.”

That’s a key reason the MPAA hired him.

“Anytime you can put a former congressman on your payroll, you get typically an incredible amount of experience, you get an incredible wealth of know-how, and you get one huge Rolodex,” said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and campaign contributions. “He’s about as connected as some can get in Washington.”

Gantman put it more delicately: “Sen. Dodd has excellent relations across the board in Washington, both with Republicans and Democrats, so he’s going to be able to be a good focus for the [MPAA’s] message.”

He said Dodd’s Capitol Hill connections were hardly the only factor at play. Dodd’s foreign policy credentials are also a huge plus for the association.

“The biggest challenges are overseas,” Gantman said, noting that foreign markets are a major source of revenue, but also a major source of digital theft. “So when you are really talking about the advocacy, this is much larger than ‘Can you lobby Congress?'”

Levinthal noted that Dodd’s move is not unusual in Washington. “We see this time and again,” he said. Former lawmakers can easily take jobs in the influence industry and eschew the revolving-door ban by limiting the amount of direct lobbying they engage in.

“What it boils down to is they’re not the quarterback on the field, but their like the coach standing on the side lines–still pretty connected to the game, very much calling the shots, but not the person who is truly on the playing field,” Levinthal said.

No matter how he squares the lobbying question, Feehery said Dodd “will have his hands full” in the new job. He and others noted that although the MPAA is a venerable group, it’s lost some of the glamor and sway it had when Valenti ran the shop.

“They don’t have the budget they used to have. They don’t have the really the cachet that they once had,” said Feehery, a former top aide to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. “And the studios are part of bigger conglomerates now. They’re not their own stand-alone operations… So he’s not going to have the attention of the top guys because they have so many other things going on.”

The studio executives said Dodd was the right man to address all the association’s current challenges.

“Chris Dodd not only has the political instincts and experience, but he’s the right person to lead the film industry through its toughest challenges regarding content protection and piracy on a domestic and global scale,” Barry Meyer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Warner Bros., said in the MPAA statement.

The MPAA said Dodd would start on St. Patrick’s Day, an auspicious first day for an Irish-American politician.