By Bill Holland
Music industry folk outside of the Beltway might view Steny Hoyer as a dark horse for the co-chairmanship of the new Congressional Recordings Arts and Sciences caucus.
The Maryland Democrat has never sat on a committee that wrestles with copyright, piracy, First Amendment or labor issues, while his caucus co-chair, Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., has a long record of protecting artists' rights.
However, a closer look reveals that Hoyer has been a major behind-the-scenes supporter of musicians and songwriters for almost a decade. In his position as House minority whip, the second-most-powerful Democrat in the House, he can bring music-related issues to the attention of members whose knowledge of the industry may be minimal at best.
"His broad knowledge puts him in a position to educate other key House members," says Neil Portnow, president/CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. "We consider him a champion of artists' rights."
Industry lobbyist Mike Remington says: "Steny's never been one sitting up on the dais; he doesn't send out press releases. But he's been there consistently for songwriters and musicians and for a long period of time."
Hoyer is the go-to guy for Democratic members who need campaign cash, adding to his clout
In the 2002 campaign cycle, he dispensed more party-raised cash to candidates than any other House member, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In the 2004 cycle, through his leadership Political Action Committee, AmeriPAC: the Fund for a Greater America, he is the No. 3 giver--behind two House GOP leaders--donating $400,000 so far.
When he was first elected to the House in 1981, Hoyer says he "really wasn't aware" of industry and artists' issues. What opened his eyes was the sad story of iconic 19th-century songwriter Stephen Foster.
"I visited Nashville in 1986 at the invitation of [Rep.] Bart Gordon [D-Tenn.]. Down there I met songwriter Peter McCann and got to know him. He told me the story about Stephen Foster," Hoyer recalls.
"Here he was, the most prominent songwriter of his day. Everybody sang his songs; everybody played his songs. Yet he died a pauper. The reason was that people used the fruits of his creative talent for free," he says. "His rights were not protected.
"I realized the situation with artists was historically unfair," Hoyer continues. "So I really started to get into these issues, although there are no [Maryland] constituents that are personally involved."
CHAMPION OF PRESERVATION
Hoyer has also been a champion of funding for Library of Congress projects, especially the Democratic co-sponsor of the landmark Sound Recording Preservation Act of 2000. That law ensures that the most significant and important U.S. sound recordings will be saved, restored, correctly preserved and archived (Billboard, Nov. 3, 2000).
Hoyer says he and LOC president Dr. James Billington were involved in the passage and implementation of that bill.
Hoyer led the unsuccessful fight to defeat the Fairness in Music Licensing Act of 1998, which exempts all but the biggest restaurants, taverns and mall shops from having to pay royalties for the use of background music. That law puts the United States in violation of the World Trade Organization's copyright-protection rules.
He has also been involved in promoting NARAS' music in the schools program.
Bono came up with the idea for the caucus after conversations with NARAS. She says Hoyer was the first person she thought of as a co-chair who could to help the creative musical community get a fair shake.
"Steny was the first guy I wanted to talk to," Bono says. "I'm so happy he agreed."
The caucus includes Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; David Drier, R-Calif.; and Mark Foley, R-Fla. (Foley is the chairman of the Republican Entertainment Industry Task Force), as well as Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif.; John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; Robert Wexler, D-Fla.; and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.
Veteran Hill observers say that for their support of artists, the lawmakers will share in a bit of star sparkle.
"Steny was smart to see a niche that was open for an ally, not of the business which is what most of Congress tends to be focused on, but of the artists and musicians themselves," says Hilary Rosen, former Recording Industry Assn. of America chairman/CEO.
"The caucus will have a worthy agenda," she adds, "but I also think it provides a good outlet for some stargazing, which, to some members, is the point."
Ben Palumbo, a lobbyist for ASCAP and a friend of Hoyer's, says, "I don't want to speculate on Steny. But in general, a politician with ambition would want to reach out to diverse communities, including the music industry, which is politically vocal. It would be foolish to ignore them."
The new caucus was announced April 19 at a NARAS town hall meeting in Nashville.