SOPA’s chief sponsor harder to defeat than SOPA was
FORTUNE — Crowdsourcing the opposition to SOPA and PIPA, the congressional bills aimed at foreign digital pirates, seemed to work. Opponents were loud, and the blackouts of popular Web sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit turned out to be the tipping point. The bills were defeated.
Crowdsourcing utterly failed, however, when it came to the attempt to unseat a leading proponent of SOPA, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who easily defeated his primary opponents and who will likely keep his congressional seat, despite the best efforts of the denizens of Reddit.
Smith crushed his two opponents, Richard Mack and Richard Morgan, drawing 76 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.
This was hardly a shock – Smith is an entrenched incumbent who has spent a quarter-century in the House. Such candidates tend to draw most of the contributions: Smith took in about $1.3 million, or about 25 times the amount Mack collected. Morgan took in just $9,500.
About half of the money Smith raised was institutional, and a big part of that came from media organizations and lobbyists that supported SOPA and PIPA. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast (CMCSA) donated $5,000 in PAC money while Time Warner (TWX) (publisher of Fortune) gave $6,000 through its PAC. Executives from Clear Channel Communications gave $18,300. The National Association of Broadcasters and the Recording Industry Association of America gave a total of $8,000 through their PACs while RIAA executives forked over an additional $2,000.
Reddit created its own committee, called Test PAC, which spent about $18,500 trying to defeat Smith, according to the CRP. The money went to direct mail campaigns, TV spots, and billboards.
Of course, Smith won mostly because he’s a party-backed incumbent, and he got lots of money from lots of different sources. He took in not much more than the $1 million average for an incumbent congressman (the average challenger in the current primary season raised about $140,000, says the CRP). Still, he’s a reliable supporter of big-media interests, a fact that is reflected in the proportion of media money his campaign has attracted.