Liberal MP takes flak for fundraiser by copyright lobbyists

Liberal MP Sarmite Bulte is coming under heavy fire this week for a $250-a-plate fundraiser being hosted for her by lobbyists from the film, music and video game industries.

Liberal MP Sarmite Bulte is coming under heavy fire this week for a $250-a-plate fundraiser being hosted for her by lobbyists from the film, music and video game industries.

The people behind the fundraiser have been lobbying the government to tighten copyright rules to curb downloading and CD burning. They support amendments the Liberals have proposed to copyright law.

Bulte chaired the Heritage committee that called for reforms and she stands to take a prominent role in cultural issues if a Liberal government is re-elected. She is a potential candidate for Heritage Minister.

The contributions are legal under Canada's new campaign laws. Conservative Bev Oda, the Canadian Heritage critic, has accepted donations from the same groups.

Prominent Canadian historian Jack Granatstein, author of more than a dozen books on Canadian politics, has called the fundraiser inappropriate.

"Politicians should be somewhat more careful than to be seen to be in the pocket of a particular collection of lobbyists on a matter of public importance," he said, according to the Canadian Press.

Bulte defended the fundraiser, which will support her re-election effort in the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park, saying, "People raise money all the time. I'm being absolutely transparent."

Among the hosts of the fundraiser are Doug Frith, president of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, and Graham Henderson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, who continue to lobby for stronger copyright rules.

Jackie Hushion of the Canadian Publishers Council and Danielle LaBoisserre of the Entertainment Software Alliance are also involved, as are representatives of the film and television industries.

Over the past week, bloggers have been heavily critical of Bulte's ties to lobbyists.

Canadian law professor and blogger Michael Geist writes that these groups and individuals have contributed to Bulte's campaign, creating a perception of bias.

"Parliamentarians involved in the copyright reform process should refuse all such contributions to ensure that the perception of absolute impartiality is preserved," he wrote.

Popular blog Boing Boing says Bulte is being "bankrolled by the Canadian entertainment cartel."

Some groups in the cultural community believe the internet opens up new opportunities for artists to distribute their work and that efforts to tighten copyright law are a way for traditional distributors to maintain a hold on the industry.

Another critic of Bulte's ties to the industry is the NDP candidate in her riding, Peggy Nash. "Bulte's activities further remind voters of Liberal ethical violations that are a serious concern for many Canadians," Nash said in a statement on her website.

Bill C-60, approved by Bulte's Heritage committee, offered the music and film industries stronger protection from internet piracy. It died on the order paper when the election was called. Copyright law is likely to remain an issue for whichever party forms the next government.

Bulte's fundraiser is scheduled for Jan. 19 at the Drake hotel in Toronto.