Lamar Smith is being tagged as a backer of Big Government by his 2012 challenger.
To the ranks of same-sex marriage, tax cuts and illegal immigration, add this to the list of polarizing political issues of Election 2012: the Stop Online Piracy Act.
The hot-button anti-piracy legislation that sparked a revolt online is starting to become a political liability for some of SOPA’s major backers. Fueled by Web activists and online fundraising tools, challengers are using the bill to tag its congressional supporters as backers of Big Government — and raise campaign cash while they’re at it.
Among the fattest targets: SOPA’s lead author, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and two of its most vocal co-sponsors, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has also felt the wrath of SOPA opponents.
Even GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were asked by voters recently to weigh in on the bill (neither gave definitive answers, though activists have interpreted Santorum’s response as more sympathetic to SOPA than Romney’s).
It’s a stretch to think SOPA will cost any of the longtime incumbents backing the bill their seats. The legislation would give government new powers to shutter websites that peddle counterfeit products and pirated copies of movies and music.
But there are signs the issue, long the domain of think tanks and intellectual property lawyers, could become a real factor in some races.
Prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson, for one, has promised to make life miserable for any GOP lawmaker who gets behind the bill. His first target: Blackburn.
“I love Marsha Blackburn. She is a delightful lady and a solidly conservative member of Congress,” Erickson wrote on his widely read blog, Red State. But “I am pledging right now that I will do everything in my power to defeat her in her 2012 re-election bid.”
Erickson went on to implore the left and right to “unite and pledge to defeat in primaries every person named as a sponsor” of SOPA and suggested that both sides create a fund dedicated to supporting challengers running against SOPA supporters.
“Killing SOPA is that important,” Erickson wrote.
In Ryan’s case, critics pounced after the powerful congressman issued a vague statement that they interpreted as supportive of the bill. Using the social news site Reddit, they launched an online campaign— dubbed “Operation Pull Ryan” — to unseat him.
Ryan’s Democratic opponent, Rob Zerban, seized on the uproar. After lambasting the bill during an interview on Reddit, Zerban raked in about $15,000 in campaign donations, according to campaign manager Lisa Tanner.
The uproar wasn’t lost on Ryan. On Monday, he issued a statement opposing SOPA in no uncertain terms. While the bill “attempts to address a legitimate problem,” Ryan said, it would open the door to “undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.”
SOPA is making waves in other House races, too.
Goodlatte’s primary challenger in Virginia’s 6th District, Karen Kwiatkowski, claimed on her website that SOPA “will dramatically increase the federal government’s role in our lives.” She asked people to contribute to her campaign and “send Bob Goodlatte a message.”
Kwiatkowski, who describes herself as a “conservative constitutionalist Republican,” told POLITICO that Goodlatte’s support for the bill was “bought and paid for” by content companies that “don’t want to adapt their business models [and] don’t want to invest in protection for their material.” That includes language software company Rosetta Stone, she said, which is based in the district.
She estimated that 20 percent — or roughly $5,000 — of the donations she received in December was attributable to SOPA. Kwiatkowski has raised about $30,000 total.