EMI-Universal Merger: Labels Gave $500K to Senators Probing Anti-Trust Claims

Sen. Al Franken Sen. Charles Schumer Split - H 2012
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Sen. Al Franken Sen. Charles Schumer Split - H 2012

More than half of the eight-member subcommittee deciding the merger's fate have taken significant campaign donations from the two music industry giants.

More than half the members of subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which met Thursday to hear testimony on the antitrust implications of the pending Universal Music-EMI merger, have received campaign contributions from the two music industry giants.

According to a study by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, five of the eight-member Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust have “received contributions from the two music giants or from rival firm Warner Music.” In fact, even since the Universal-EMI merger was proposed in November, the two firms have given $65,000 in contributions to members of the subcommittee or their personal PACs. That's on top of tens of thousands of dollars donated to the senators by the music giants or their parent companies over the years.

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The Sunlight Foundation found that Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, long a favorite of both Wall Street and the entertainment industry, is the largest recipient of the two music firms’ largesse during his career, with contributions of $476,416 from Universal, home to Justin Bieber and Kanye West, and EMI, which boasts recent multiplatinum releases by Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum in recent years, and $66,700 from Warner Music, whose corporate offices are based in New York City. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who pointed out that music legend Bob Dylan hails from her home state, has collected $39,504 from the companies seeking merger approval and $3,250 from Warner Music, according to the study.

Iowa’s Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley similarly has received $35,063 from Universal and EMI and $3,000 from Warner Music. Comedian-turned Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota has taken $10,250 from Universal and EMI since his election four years ago and $3,300 from Warner. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has received $8,750 from Universal and EMI and nothing from Warner. In total, Universal and EMI alone have handed over $569,980 to members of the committee looking into their future together. 

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Meanwhile, two subcommittee members -- Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who chaired the hearing, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah -- have not taken contributions from any of the music firms.

Thursday’s proceedings included arguments on behalf of consolidation made by UMG chairman Lucian Grainge, EMI’s Roger Faxon and Live Nation's Irving Azoff. Opposing the merger was Warner’s Edgar Bronfman Jr., Beggars Group founder Martin Mills and Gigi B. Sohn of consumer group Public Knowledge. 

Update: An EMI spokesperson denied that any contributions had been made by the company, in the US or in any other territory. A rep for the Sunlight Foundation clarified that Citigroup contributions to Schumer came before the announced merger and that some were gifted before Citi purchased EMI in February 2011. Citigroup's corporate political action committee did, however, contribute at least $10,000 in 2011 to Schumer's leadership PAC, Impact. The rest -- some $48,000 -- came in the form of contributions from Citigroup employees during 2009 and 2010.

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