• Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s Crony Gift to Silicon Valley

    In 2011, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte poked a Silicon Valley hornet’s nest, backing a draconian anti-piracy bill nicknamed “SOPA” that prompted Internet-wide blackouts until the legislation was hastily scrapped.

    But ever since then, he seems to be eager to make amends with his tech industry friends.

    The Virginia Republican has fundraised in the valley, raking in campaign contributions from Google, Facebook (his son works there) and other top companies, making news with surprisingly pro-amnesty stands that are in contrast to his words back home on the East Coast.

    Sometimes, it even seemed that Goodlatte was working for his Silicon Valley campaign donors, like when Ron Conway, a venture capitalist, told Roll Call he had demanded assurances from Goodlatte that he would provide a “timetable” on amnesty before he participated in one of the ritzy California affairs.

    Now Goodlatte is carrying water for the tech giants again, this time on a patent bill that conservatives have decried as a major danger to the free enterprise engine that made the United States the most powerful country in the world.

    The bill, titled the Innovation Act (H.R. 9), was scheduled for a markup this week (it has since been postponed) and appears to be getting significant traction in the Capitol. A version of the bill from last Congress passed easily, with only the most conservative lawmakers, like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a noted inventor who holds 24 patents from his own creations, objecting.

    But now conservatives are starting to take notice. In March, 24 conservative leaders, led by Eagle Forum Founder and President Phyllis Schafly, American Conservative Union Executive Director Dan Schneider, and the Club For Growth’s President, David McIntosh, warned the bill is an unconstitutional erosion of private property rights.

    In February, legal heavyweight Richard Epstein wrote the bill “could easily smother further technological innovation,” and 15 university heads said in their own letter, saying the bill would essentially leave patent-holders unable to enforce their intellectual property.

    Goodlatte may often engender criticism, but no one has ever accused him of being stupid. He’s a patient, calculating man who acts with purpose. So why is he pushing a bill that has earned the scorn of conservative leaders and legal experts?

    The answer may lie in the seamy side of DC – fundraising.

    The bill is the top legislative priority of Google, which spent $16.83 million in federal lobbying in 2014. Just to put that number in perspective: it’s even more than Comcast spent as the Most Hated Company in AmericaTMwas in the midst of seeking approval for a $45 billion merger with Time Warner. It’s also roughly double what Facebook and Microsoft spent.

    In 2014, Google employed a small army of 98 lobbyists from 21 separate firms. The number one lobbying issue listed in its disclosure forms? “Copyright, Patent & Trademark.”

    Google is Goodlatte’s sixth-largest campaign donor on a leaders’ board stacked with Silicon Valley giants like Oracle, Google and Facebook.

    The SOPA episode, while anathema to the tech cabal, is actually a very interesting parallel case. The bill, which was officially introduced by then-Judiciary Committe Chairman Lamar Smith but widely seen inside the Capitol as Goodlatte’s baby, provided a deeply controversial solution to a problem facing a specific industry niche: the movie studios.

    In that case, the Motion Picture Association of America was driving the train, and Goodlatte pushed a bill that ended up in bitter acrimony. Now, he’s doing essentially the same thing for different masters.

    Chairman Goodlatte is generally speaking a good, conservative man with a solid voting record. But it’s clear now that he has a vice: pushing legislation that serves a special interest exceptionally well but not the rest of us. He should scrap this bill and try again.

    Cloakroom Confidential

    Cloakroom Confidential was a longtime Capitol Hill staffer and insider who has contacts in the House and Senate at the highest levels.

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