A report Monday (July 28) from the Trichordist, a blog that often focuses on regulatory issues that would affect songwriters, accuses Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren of supporting anti-gay politician Jason Chaffetz, but a closer look at Westergren’s donation history seems to illustrate that, as is so often the case, the truth is a bit less controversial.
David Lowery, the writer of the article, referenced the database of OpenSecrets.org, a site that collects information on political donations, to illustrate his point. A cursory look at OpenSecrets’ data on Westergren shows the entrepreneur having regularly donated money to politicians and political action committees (PACs) dating back to 2004, when he gave the presidential candidate John Kerry $2,000 (the only donation, it’s worth noting, where Pandora wasn’t attributed in any way). OpenSecrets shows Westergren has donated to over 40 politicians and PACs since 2004, totaling $192,268. Over 40 of those donations were to Democratic Party-aligned politicians and PACs (including Barack Obama), but also include Senator Orrin Hatch, famous stalwart of the Republican party.
Pandora’s director of public affairs, Dave Grimaldi, issued a statement to Billboard, saying that the article “is an unfortunate distraction from the substantive conversation about how to ensure that the music industry thrives well into the future.”
Westergren’s donations seem to indicate no political affiliation other than attempting to draw political support for his company, which has for years been lobbying regulators and the political establishment in seeking a reduction of the statutory royalties Pandora pays to songs’ rightsholders. Westergren and Pandora had backed the Internet Radio Fairness Act until last November, seeking to change how the Copyright Royalty board, a three-member panel in charge of setting the statutory rates for webcasting, sets those rates. Pandora abandoned its campaign behind IRFA, instead attempting to appeal directly to the Copyright Royalty Board. Congressman Chaffetz was a co-sponsor of the House’s draft of IRFA and sits on the House subcommittee in charge of copyright and music licensing.
The company has been aggressive in pursuing changes in (or clever loopholes straight through) policy that would lower the revenue required to provide music to its listeners. Its most recent quarterly financial report, released last week, showed the company paying 50.9 percent of revenue for content acquisition in Q2.
The company has drawn criticism from songwriters and their attendant trade bodies for its lobbying and tactics over digital statutory licensing rates, including relatively well-reasoned arguments from the likes of former employees.
Mr. Lowery refused a request for comment.