Aug. 28, 2008— -- DENVER -- With a key piece of legislation pending before Congress, big entertainment companies pulled out all the stops Wednesday night with a free concert for about 600 select attendees by one of the country's biggest hip hop stars, Kanye West.
Lobbyists for the recording industry trade group, the RIAA, and music companies distributed free tickets to members of Congress, their staff and other Democrats. Tickets for West's concerts often sell for more than $1,000.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and several House Democrats were among about 500 people seen entering the West concert. The multiple Grammy-winning artist did not begin to perform until about 12:45 a.m. and continued to about 1:45 a.m.
The Senate Ethics Committee said senators and their staff could accept the free tickets, while the House Ethics Committee required its members and staff to pay $90 to attend.
Joined by actor Jamie Foxx, West performed his famed "Gold-digger" song, and another number tailored for the crowd.
(Click here to watch a video clip of the performance.)"All the years of trauma, trauma, trauma.
I'm going to pause like a comma, comma, comma.
At least we got Obama, bama, bama, bama."
According to disclosure records, the RIAA, whose members include ABC News' parent Walt Disney Company, spent more than $7 million on lobbying last year and has already spent $3.7 million this year.
Sponsors say the event was meant to sponsor U2 singer Bono's ONE campaign against poverty.
"There was no mention of legislative proposals of any kind as we were there to focus on the global mission of the ONE Campaign," said Cara Duckworth, spokesperson for the RIAA, "so I'm going to respectfully decline to further comment for your story."
But the lobbyists' efforts were clearly focused beyond the night's event.
Arriving at the concert last night, Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said the free concert was part of the group's "mission."
"Property, copyright, music education, all of those things," he said.
Among the music industry's key efforts: pushing for passage of a bill that would toughen federal oversight of trademark issues, toughen penalties for violators and allow the Justice Department to prosecute civil cases for internet music downloading and trademark counterfeiting.
The bill, which critics say goes too far, would create a Senate-confirmed copyright czar to coordinate enforcement of intellectual property violations at the Justice Department.
"Part of the problem is that it ends up turning the Justice Department into an agent of the entertainment industry," said Sherwin Siy, a staff attorney for Public Knowledge, a D.C.-based public interest group that promotes internet freedom.
"It's using government resources to pursue non-criminal activity – non-criminal activity that the entertainment industry is perfectly capable of pursuing itself," said Siy.
The House passed a version of the bill – which does not include a provision to allow civil prosecution - last year.
Just last month Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Leahy did not attend last night's concert but was recently given a small speaking role in Warner Bros Picture's latest Batman movie "The Dark Knight." Leahy, who said he was a longtime Batman fan, contributed his payment from Warner Bros (a Time Warner company and RIAA member) to charity.