WASHINGTON–No one would dispute that ex-Sen. Chris Dodd has a strong stage presence, at least when it comes to political theater.
Now, it seems, he’s auditioning for a different role, one in which he would be Hollywood’s chief advocate in Washington and around the globe.
Dodd, who retired last month after three decades in the Senate, is reportedly in talks with the Motion Picture Association of America to be the group’s top lobbyist. He has been unavailable for comment since the reports surfaced.
The job, which comes with an estimated $1.2 million annual paycheck, would put Dodd in charge of one of Washington’s premier trade associations. It would also add some glitz to the 66-year-old politician’s resume, making him the entertainment industry’s liaison to Congress, the Executive Branch, and in the international arena.
“It’s a very high-profile job, and it’s a very high-profile industry,” said Dan Glickman, a former Kansas congressman and the last MPAA chief, who left the job about a year ago. “It’s the movies. It’s this great symbol of America.”
The MPAA spent $1.66 million last year to lobbying Congress and the White House. It has a political action committee that doles out tens of thousands of dollars to lawmakers every election cycle. And it has a far-reaching agenda, touching on everything from international copyright law to domestic tax policy to video captioning rules.
“You’re an ambassador for the industry,” said Glickman, who took over after the legendary Jack Valenti, a one-time aide to the Johnson Administration, retired. That might mean pressing the Chinese government to crack down on piracy one day and lobbying Congress to preserve a tax break the next.
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.
But many ex-lawmakers sidestep this ban by acting as “strategic consultants,” crafting a client’s lobbying strategy without directly contacting their former Capitol Hill colleagues.
For the MPAA job, it’s also possible that Dodd could take the role without triggering the lobbying registration requirements. Current law requires a person to spend 20 percent of their time engaged in lobbying activities before they have to file a disclosure form. But when Glickman was the MPAA head, he registered as a federal lobbyist.
The MPAA members are an elite group–the CEOs of the six major movie studios: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLLP; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The association, which has been without a permanent leader since Glickman’s departure, is looking for someone who can open doors in Washington and who has also some relationships in Los Angeles, not to mention Europe and Asia.
Dodd already knows the contours of the entertainment industry’s legislative agenda, even if he’s not an expert in the nitty-gritty details of digital piracy or the movie rating system.
The former senator, who once dated actress Carrie Fisher (of Star Wars’ Princess Leia fame) and one-time fashion icon Bianca Jagger, has long cultivated ties to major donors in Hollywood and New York. And he counts some big-name stars as good friends, including singer Paul Simon and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
“They know him, and they know how smart and frankly how charming he is,” said Don Fowler, who served alongside Dodd at the Democratic National Committee from 1995 to 1997. In that role, Dodd worked with other top Democrats to pry open the wallets of the Hollywood elite.
“I have seen him meet and relate to David Geffen, the Weinstein brothers, Spielberg,” recalled Fowler, referring to the Dreamworks’ co-founder; Bob and Harvey Weinstein, former co-chairmen of Miramax Films; and film director, screenwriter and producer Steven Spielberg.
“In the interplay with all those people,” Dodd was both “charming” and “to the point,” Fowler said. “I don’t think there’s any cultural incompatibility.”
Dodd further cemented those ties when he launched his own presidential bid. His donor list during that 2008 race included actors Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, Universal Studios CEO Ronald Meyer, and Time Warner President Jeffrey Bewkes.
“I love Chris Dodd. I did a fundraiser for him in March,” Paul Simon told the Washington Post during Dodd’s 2008 run.
In the most recent election cycle, before he retired, the entertainment industry was among Dodd’s top contributors. Television, movie and music interests gave him and his leadership PAC nearly $200,000 in that period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The entertainment sector ranked higher on Dodd’s donor list than the defense industry, credit and finance companies, and drug firms.
Dodd’s California connections, along with his Washington expertise, make him a natural fit for the MPAA job, some say.
“He’s well-known and high-profile,” said Rep. Howard Berman, a Los Angeles Democrat. And he would give MPAA a significant “congressional presence,” he added.
Glickman agreed, noting that Dodd’s service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would be particularly appealing to studio executives worried about maintaining their market share overseas, not to mention threats of censorship and piracy.
“This is a very international job,” Glickman said, noting that the American movie industry now gets a majority of its revenue from overseas. And Dodd is “a known commodity in many parts of the world–and for sure in Washington.”
And the draw for Dodd? “Some of it might be financial,” Berman quipped.
To be sure, former Connecticut Congressman turned lobbyist Toby Moffett said, “if all things were equal and he were going to run an association, he’d want to run Save the Children. But he’s got to worry about his children and his family.”
In the MPAA job, he said, “you’re a diplomat, you’re an ambassador, you’re a man about town.”
Moffett pointed to one major perk: a private 70-seat theater in the MPAA’s downtown D.C. office, which MPAA lobbyists use to lure lawmakers for free movie screenings.
“It’s a very sort of sought after invitation,” Moffett said, adding that Dodd would be a “great host” for the shows.
It’s unclear how far along the current negotiations are for the MPAA job. Dodd was not available for an interview. An MPAA spokesman declined to comment, and an aide for Dodd would not confirm or deny media reporters that Dodd was the main contender for the post.
“The Senator is talking with a number of people both in the public and private sector about various options, but he hasn’t made any decisions yet about his next step,” Dodd’s aide, Mike McKiernan, said in an email to the Mirror.