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The Strange Fight Over Who Should Take John Conyers Spot Atop The Judiciary Committee


As you may have heard, Rep. John Conyers recently stepped down from his role as Ranking Member (basically top member of the minority party) on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, and this week has announced his retirement, in response to multiple accusations of sexual harassment. That has kicked off something of an interesting and important debate over who should replace him as ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

The next in line by seniority is Rep. Jerry Nadler. But right behind him is Rep. Zoe Lofgren. By way of disclosure, I'll note that I've gotten to know Lofgren over the years, and have donated to her election campaign. But even before I'd ever spoken to her, I've noted how she remains one of the few people in Congress who seems to consistently do the right thing on basically all of the issues that we care about at Techdirt. You can see our past coverage of stories involving Lofgren. Most specifically on copyright and surveillance, she hasn't just been on the right side, she's been leading the way. She is, almost single-handedly, the person who stopped SOPA from passing. She has consistently raised important issues and introduced important bills and amendments concerning copyright, NSA surveillance and the CFAA among other things.

Obviously, I think she'd make a great ranking member for the Judiciary Committee (or the chair should the House flip sides in the future). So I was happy to see her recently announce her intention to run for the Ranking Member position against Nadler. Who knows if she'll actually get the position, but I found it odd that upon announcing it, she was immediately attacked by, of all places, The Intercept, which put forth a really strange article accusing Lofgren of being a Google shill. This was strange on multiple levels -- though, I get it. Lofgren gets called a "Google shill" for the same reasons that we do here at Techdirt. Because, even though we frequently disagree with Google on a variety of issues, on the whole we support many of the same policies that protect free speech and open innovation online.

That's also true of Lofgren. While she's supported key policies on copyright, online speech, innovation and surveillance, she's similarly pushed back against Google quite frequently as well. She's publicly criticized the company for its lack of diversity. She's voted against a bill to expand H1-B visas that Google supported. She voted against Trade Promotion Authority (which Google stupidly supported -- as noted in one of my links above) that paved the way to moving forward on TPP. On top of that, the tech industry has mostly pushed back on CFAA reform, such as Lofgren's Aaron's Law, because companies want to have it as a tool to use against employees at times. Just recently, Lofgren has started digging into competition inssues in Silicon Valley, warning about the lack of competition and how it's a problem -- a position that, more than likely, Google finds worrisome.

That's just part of why it's so odd that the Intercept, of all publications, would post this article suggesting that Lofgren doesn't belong as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee just because she's "close" to Google. Even odder, is the fact that the authors of the piece -- two reporters whose work I've long respected, Ryan Grim and Lee Fang -- focus entirely on claiming that Lofgren is a product of Google, while ignoring anything about Nadler. Not only has Nadler been on the wrong side of many of these same key issues, if you consider Lofgren somehow tied to Google (again, incorrectly) then you would similarly have to conclude that Nadler is in the pocket of the legacy entertainment industry, and their ongoing quest to destroy the internet as we know it. If you start looking at Nadler's campaign finance situation, it sure looks like he's the MPAA and the RIAA's favorite Congressman.

In the last campaign cycle, the RIAA gave significantly more to Nadler than any other Democrat. Same with Disney. Same with Sony. Same with Time Warner. Same with Universal Music. Same with the Association of American Publishers. Same with ASCAP. While Viacom gave a bit more to three other members, Nadler was the 4th highest support on the Democratic side. Comcast gave a little more to Conyers, but again, Nadler is near the top of the list. The Grammys have given more to Nadler than any other Democrat, and he repays them by holding events with them all the time.

There's a pretty clear pattern here. If the legacy copyright players want something on the Democratic side, Nadler's their guy. And, maybe that doesn't matter to the Intercept. Maybe it doesn't matter that bad copyright policies that he promotes would have serious downsides to the way the internet works, to free speech and to privacy. Maybe, the Intercept has decided that any possible "connection" to Google is worse than everything else. But considering that the whole creation of The Intercept came about because of the Snowden revelations, and a key focus of The Intercept is to report on the evils of government surveillance, it's kind of surprising that it would publish an article promoting Nadler over Lofgren while ignoring that Nadler has not always been a close friend of surveillance reform. It's true that he's sponsored some reform efforts, including the USA Freedom Act, but just last month he was seen voting against an important amendment brought forth by Lofgren, to end backdoor searches in the ongoing effort to reform Section 702.

So it seems odd that the Intercept is effectively arguing that Nadler would make a better ranking member on Judiciary, even as Lofgren has a stronger record on stopping government surveillance, just because some (falsely) believe that Lofgren is "tied" to Google. And, at the very least, if they're going to tar Lofgren because her views sometimes align with Google's, it seems that it could at least treat Nadler equally by looking into his close connections with the legacy entertainment business.


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