ARCHIVE 10/26/07: WWE Lobbying: How SmackDown Does SuckUp

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Hearings on drugs and death in pro wrestling loom from either of two committees of the House of Representatives. Let’s take a look at one area in which World Wrestling Entertainment, a billion-dollar corporation, is certain to be investing resources: lobbying.

WWE Lobbying: How SmackDown Does SuckUp

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Hearings on drugs and death in pro wrestling loom from either of two committees of the House of Representatives. Let’s take a look at one area in which World Wrestling Entertainment, a billion-dollar corporation, is certain to be investing resources: lobbying.

This is democracy in action, 21st century America style, and it’s nothing new for Vince McMahon either. In a chapter of WRESTLING BABYLON (originally published as a 1988 article in The Washington Monthly), I describe how Titan Sports, parent company of then-World Wrestling Federation, sicced lobbyists on state legislators to help nudge the nascent deregulation of pro wrestling over the top rope. One of those lobbyists was Rick Santorum, a young lawyer at WWF/WWE’s long-time Pittsburgh-based main outside law firm, which now has the name Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis. Santorum went on to two terms as Pennsylvania’s junior (and right-wing) United States senator.

Much as I’d like to represent that the information below comes from painstaking enterprise reporting, the truth is that an excellent public-interest group, the Center for Responsive Politics (http://crp.org or http://opensecrets.org), maintains a cross-referenced database of the Congressional filings mandated by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. The interface there is so friendly that even I can figure it out. (I also thank CRP’s communications director, Massie Ritsch, for helping me interpret the data.)

I have not yet investigated whether WWE’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings include more specific data in this area. I suspect not, but if so I will discuss in a future blog post.

Here’s what we find:

  • Last month Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis registered as a lobbyist for WWE. The firm’s listed “government relations specialists” are  Scott Aliferis, George Koch, Roger Morse, and Dennis Potter. According to the firm’s website, Aliferis is an experienced lobbyist and a former “principle [sic! sic!] policy advisor” to Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan. Koch’s resume includes a stint as CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade association. Morse was a legislative director for disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom Delay. I don’t have any further info on Potter.
  • Lobbyist filings are semi-annual. We therefore won’t know the range of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s spending on Capitol Hill on behalf of WWE until next February. Under “LOBBYING ISSUES” the entry reads, “Representation relative to Congressional investigation of use of performance enhancing substances in professional wrestling.”
  • In three different years WWE has been represented by APCO Worldwide, a spinoff of Arnold & Porter, the powerful Washington law firm that was co-founded by Abe Fortas, a member of President Lyndon Johnson’s circle who went on to become a Supreme Court justice. APCO spent at least $120,000 on WWE’s behalf in 2001, and between $0 and $120,000 both last year and in the first half of this year. In 2002 another big lobbyist, Blank Rome, reported spending at least $120,000 on WWE interests. In 1999 (at least $20,000) and 2000 (at least $400,000) the old WWF got services from the Carmen Group, the firm of David Carmen, former advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Then there are campaign contributions by the McMahon family. More on that in a future post.

Irv Muchnick

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