Is Ron Wyden an Idealistic Progressive or Just Another Sleazy Pol?
Sen Ron Wyden D-OR is the last congressional true believer in a completely unregulated wild-west cyber-libertarian-internet. A “free internet” that works quite well for internet wolves, but not so much for the rest of us. He seems to be the only guy left in the Senate willing to lay his credibility on the line to protect any and all internet bad actors. Is this radical idealism or is he just another politician pandering to rich and powerful interests?
I have already formed my opinion of Wyden. Sen Ron Wyden has been a relentless foe of copyright reform legislation that would benefit artists. And a champion of legislation that would benefit digital behemoths. Wyden opposed the Classics act and is one of two Senators currently opposing the CASE Act (the other is the kooky Sen Rand Paul). He sponsored the Orwellian named Internet Radio Fairness Act that would have slashed artist royalties more than fifty percent. This act would have benefitted a handful of multibillion-dollar tech companies. No one else. Pure corporate welfare. Fortunately, the bill was crushed. Wyden represents thousands of musicians that call Oregon home. Portland is arguably not far behind Austin TX as an independent music mecca. Aside from a handful of Silicon Valley engineers employed at server farms in the Eastern Oregon desert, he doesn’t represent Silicon Valley. He did, however, grow up in Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley.
This guy claims to be a progressive democrat, yet aside from some lip service on social issues, there is no evidence he is actually progressive. Like Nike, the actual evidence is all to the contrary. Sweatshops and shilling for corporate monopolies is not a progressive value. Now perhaps because I am an artist and I am directly harmed by Wyden’s devotion to moneyed interests in Silicon Valley, I am looking at this through a different lens than the “average” American. I obviously have my biases.
What is something objectively bad that all Americans can agree is bad? What can we look at that will resonate with average Americans? Child sex trafficking? There are surely not two reasonable sides to this debate. Surely all Americans can agree it is horrific. Let’s look at Wyden through this lens. A decent non-kooky senator would not oppose a narrow amendment of Sec 230 (FOSTA/SESTA). A narrow amendment to make Backpage and other internet platforms liable for blatant child sex trafficking on their sites, would they? And surely a decent non-kooky Senator wouldn’t stick their neck out to oppose an amendment overwhelmingly supported (97-2) by a bipartisan coalition of senators?
Yet Wyden did. Wyden was one of two Senators to vote against FOSTA/SESTA and the only Senator to speak against FOSTA on the house floor. A rather dramatic and long speech. Read it here.
Why did all (non-kooky) Senators, other than Wyden see FOSTA/SESTA as a necessity? As NPR explains:
Over the years, victims and their families brought case after case against Backpage — and lost. The website kept convincing judges across the country that Section 230 shielded it from liability for the posts of its users. Major digital-rights groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, argued that holding Backpage liable could have chilling effects for social media and other websites.
This bewildered Mazzio: “How is it possibly legal that a website that makes millions and millions of dollars has no accountability for this crime?” she says. “Section 230 has turned into a Teflon shield, not to protect free speech but to protect business revenue.”
The Supreme Court last year declined to hear victims’ appeal in the case of Backpage and Section 230.
Why did Wyden oppose FOSTA? Wyden’s speech on the Senate floor is telling. Wyden argues making these sorts of child sex trafficking ads illegal would drive this activity underground and make it harder to prosecute. Sounds sort of reasonable. I guess. If you’re an idiot. By Wyden’s logic:
We should allow dogfighting ads to make this activity easier to prosecute?
We should allow black-market Fentanyl and Oxycontin ads to make dealers easier to prosecute?
We should allow ads for fake securities, insurance, and other financial scams to make it easier to prosecute the fraudsters?
Why stop there? We should allow murder-for-hire ads on internet platforms to make hitmen easier to prosecute?
How bout snuff films?
And yes he really does make this argument:
I fear that the legislation before the Senate will be another failure. I fear it will do more to take down ads than take down traffickers. I fear it will send the bad guys beyond the grasp of law enforcement to the shadowy corners of the dark web, where everyday search engines don’t go, but where criminals find safe haven for their monstrous acts.
This is the democratic Senator from Portland Oregon making this argument. I went to UC Santa Cruz in the 1980s. Banana Slugs. We didn’t have grades. We had a gay Marxist mayor. We had the first non-gender specific bathroom protests. My girlfriend was in a play in which she played a man playing a woman. I sold alfalfa sprouts in college. Not any alfalfa sprouts but organic alfalfa sprouts. Therefore I’m pretty sure Wyden’s argument above is not a progressive argument.
But Wyden doesn’t stop there. He also makes the dubious claim that internet giants like and backed this legislation because it cements their monopoly in place by burdening start-ups with new regulations. This is at best inaccurate. While it is true that IBM supported this legislation, Facebook was at best ambivalent, almost all the other big tech companies, and crucially the search monopoly Google did not. Further, Google and Google executives actively funded groups (and academics) that opposed FOSTA. And Wyden repeated their talking points nearly verbatim. As if he was simply a puppet. I say this because a highly trained registered lobbyist would not have been as on point as Wyden. Clearly, Wyden will have a cushy post-Senate career as a corporate mouthpiece and lobbyist. If he doesn’t work directly for a tech giant.
The most damning evidence of Google’s opposition to FOSTA comes in a bumbling hamfisted admission at a Google shareholder meeting. In the video below Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson reads a letter from “Nicole S” a young woman featured in the horrifying child sex-trafficking documentary, I am Jane Doe. In the letter, she asks Google why they are funding groups opposed to FOSTA. Eric Schmidt and other top Google executives squirm uncomfortably. Chairman Eric Schmidt is visibly angered by the end of the clip. If the subject wasn’t so sickening it would be delightful.
Google clearly did not like being called out on its involvement in the orchestrated campaign that apparently included a US Senator. In the end, Google lost and Wyden lost. But Wyden and Google managed to delay the bill for some time. How many children were trafficked or even killed during this time? It is not hyperbole to say Wyden and Google may have blood on their hands. Coincidentally (or not) a few months after this video was filmed, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt resigned as a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct by top Google executives became public. Wyden is still a US Senator. At least for the time being.
The Time I Met Sen Ron Wyden
I’ve written a lot about Senator Ron Wyden over the years. I think it may be of interest that I didn’t start out as a critic of Wyden. I criticized a bill he sponsored and he came looking for me! It was November of 2012 and I had been invited to participate in a panel at The Future of Music Summit. The panel was titled “Radio Active” and we were debating the merits (or lack thereof) of the Internet Radio Fairness Act (IRFA). I had a number of criticisms of IRFA, mostly concerning the slashing of artist royalties. But I was also concerned about what appeared to be an unconstitutional muzzling of the speech of independent artists and songwriters. I showed the slide below and argued that this part of the Internet Radio Fairness Act was written so broadly it would make any discussions of direct licensing and subsequent royalty rates among musicians a violation of the Sherman Act.
The century-old Sherman act was designed to break up trusts and cartels. It authorized the federal government to break up any businesses that prohibited competition. Wyden’s bill attempted to turn the act on its head and make it a tool to protect internet cartels from musicians. Appalling to say the least. Again, I went to UC Santa Cruz and I don’t remember “protecting monopolies from workers asking for fair pay” as a key tenet of progressivism. But I don’t know, I smoked a lot of weed back then, I could have missed something. But I digress.
About an hour after my panel, Wyden came blustering into the conference, ostensibly for his keynote address. But as soon as he took the microphone he started asking who it was that said he (Wyden) was limiting free speech? He was pointing around the room. He is a tall man and I suppose he is physically intimidating. He was clearly angry. I have a terrible impulse to laugh in these sorts of situations. Despite this, I managed to keep a straight face and raise my hand. He asked me if I knew anything about his career and his unwavering support of free speech. I didn’t know what to do other than read him one of the offending passages from his own bill:
Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to permit any copyright owners of sound recordings acting jointly, or any common agent or collective representing such copyright owners, to take any action that would prohibit, interfere with, or impede direct licensing by copyright owners of sound recordings in competition with licensing by any common agent or collective, and any such action that affects interstate commerce shall be deemed a contract, combination or conspiracy in restraint of trade in violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. 1).
This clearly took him by surprise and after hemming and hawing about boilerplate language for ephemeral copies(?) he conceded:
“I certainly would never ever support anything that would restrict free and open speech, particularly artists’ expression,” Wyden said. “If the consensus in the legal community is that this restricts the First Amendment, it will be a very short-lived provision.”
I appreciated the sentiment, but unfortunately for Wyden, this implied he didn’t know what was in his own bill. Not a good look. It’s an open secret on Capitol Hill that industry lobbyists, attorneys from trade groups, astroturfs and bought off academics often write the legislative language. So who wrote this bill? Pandora? SiriusXM? Paid lobbyists? Professor Google Money?
About a year later I was considering speaking at SF Music Tech. This conference is sponsored by a host of technology companies (but most notably Google) When I spoke to one of the organizers of this conference he informed me that his “sponsors” wouldn’t appreciate me speaking there because (among other things) I had been “incredibly rude to a US Senator.”
What? I don’t even know where to start with that! SF and the Tech Industry? I thought these guys and that town loved disruption! What is more disruptive than an indie musician taking on a Senator that’s been in Washington 30+ years! I see. It’s like the old Mr. Show skit featuring an employee training tape for the Marilyn Mozzarella Pizza Rella Pie Parlours “Don’t forget to break some rules!.. but don’t really break any rules.” No wonder the SF Music Tech Summit was held at the Hotel Kabuki!
But the whole episode got me thinking about Wyden’s relationship with these Silicon Valley companies. Yes, Wyden did grow up in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. I’m sure there are a number of one or two-degree separations from tech executives. But there was a hint of “our guy” in the way he was being treated. If this were 1920s Chicago I could easily imagine someone saying “You insulted our bought and paid for Senator!” Not that I’m saying he is bought and paid for. Nor does this article offer any definitive evidence of some such scheme. But I was getting the impression Wyden was Silicon Valley’s Senator. This gave me the idea to poke around in the Senator’s campaign finances.
“The Hedge Fund is Coming From Inside The DC TownHouse!” Or “Don’t Go Down Into The Basement Hedge Fund!”
Which title do you like better? I couldn’t decide so I used them both. Might as well use this as an opportunity to poll you.
I accidentally stumbled across the story above when I was researching Wyden donors. D.E. Shaw caught my eye. Shaw has an eponymous 80 billion dollar hedge fund. So Wyden’s son Adam does an internship for a campaign donor. Okay. Nothing illegal. But then when he’s finished “someone” gives the kid 3 million dollars to start a hedge fund in dad’s basement?
If that investment came from D.E. Shaw or any other campaign donor (who else would it come from?) that could be a campaign fund violation. Or outright bribery. Or maybe not. I mean sure, plenty of people give 3 million dollars to a 26 year who spent a few months making coffee or fancy excel spreadsheets for Wall Street Brahmin. Most journalists who reported on the story clearly had an eyebrow arched. Here Business Insider reports
But a D.E Shaw spokesperson assured Bloomberg, “Adam went through the same rigorous vetting and interview process as all other D.E. Shaw group interns.”
The reason observers might think otherwise is because David Shaw has donated thousands of dollars to Senator Wyden’s election and re-election campaigns in 2004 and 2010. Shaw and his wife each gave the maximum $4,800 each that they’re allowed to donate for any single election cycle, to Wyden.
Shaw also contributed $5,000 in 2010 to Holding Onto Oregon’s Priorities, a political action committee established by Wyden, according to Campaignmoney.com
And apparently, the younger Wyden had a pretty good first year. As Bloomberg reported in 2011:
Wyden’s best personal trade last year was an investment in IDT Corp. starting in February, when the Newark, New Jersey, telecommunications company traded at an average of $4.84 a share, he said. IDT now is at $23.90
Adam Wyden’s fortuitous timing on IDT shares.
IDT. The company was a total mess at the time of the younger Wyden’s bet. Good timing on his part. I guess. I found only two curious things about this investment. According to several DC insiders, Senator Wyden was once quite close to IDT’s chief lobbyist at the FCC. A guy named John Windhausen. Funny name. Should have been a politician with that name. There were some FCC decisions during this time that seemed to have benefitted IDT. This may have sent the stock up. Or maybe not. But also odd, Adam Wyden in a fairly long interview talked about his big gain on IDT but he doesn’t mention once the company’s main business: Prepaid calling cards. A business heavily regulated by the FCC and highly dependent on favorable rulings from the commission. A small change in interconnection fees/rules would make or break this company.
Do Spies Go With That Shake?
Spoiler Alert: ADW Capital Management and ADW Capital Partners together own approximately 20% of this defense/intelligence contractor. But the investment is tucked inside a restaurant point-of-sale (POS) software company. Senator Wyden is on the Intelligence Committee.
I wrote about all this ADW Capital Partners nonsense a while back but no one seemed to think it was unusual a Senator’s son had a hedge fund in the basement. So I sort of gave up. We seemed well on our way to the same sort of senatorial kleptocracy that destroyed ancient Rome and this was not even a sideshow to the main circus. I get it. No One Cares.
The Senator has since continued to make life miserable for artists. Recently he and the kooky senator from Kentucky put a “hold” on the Case Act in the Senate. The CASE Act is a voluntary copyright small claims court proposal. It enjoys widespread support in the House (410-6) and Senate. But it will never be voted on because Senate rules allow a single Senator to block a bill. That seems unconstitutional to me as well.
Whenever Wyden does something like this I poke around in his campaign finances. And this time just for the hell of it, I decided to look at what his son’s hedge fund was doing. I hadn’t checked in a while and was surprised to see ADW Capital Management and ADW Capital Partners now have over 300 million dollars. Is it any surprise a Senator’s son can raise $300 million dollars? Credence Clearwater Revival would not be surprised. He also has hired one employee since his basement days. So two folks manage a 300 million dollar hedge fund out of a 700 square foot suite in Manhattan. I guess that’s normal.
ADW Capital Management and ADW Capital Management Partners Holdings according to WhaleWisdom.com
I went to Whalewisdom.com to look up the holdings. An odd set of companies. A very small set of companies. Four companies in total. Plus something derivative traders call a “covered call” strategy. I’ve never seen a hedge fund with such concentrated holdings. The second hedge fund has three of the same four companies. Weird. He’s also doing quite poorly this year. But hey, maybe there is some real science behind this. You don’t make money doing what everyone else does.
RACE is Ferrari. And it’s coupled with the sale of “calls.” Essentially a bet the stock won’t rise.
EVI is a dry cleaning supply, equipment, service, and franchise business. Mostly in Carribean and South/Central America.
SIC is basically a distributor of stone countertops and such.
The last is ParTechnology which seems to be a maker of restaurant point of sales software. As I was typing this into a search engine I got “PAR government” as an auto-suggestion. I assumed it must be a similarly named unrelated company. Because PAR Technology is a restaurant point of sales software company and there is no mention of a defense and intelligence division on their website. However, a quick search of the SEC website turned up a Form 10-Q that confirmed PAR Government was indeed a subsidiary of the restaurant point of sales company. Interesting.
According to the website GovernmentContractsWon.com, in 2018 Par Technology won 27 defense contracts for a total of $21,652,632. Over the last two decades, this company has won 187 defense contracts worth almost $300 million. This amount would not include pure intelligence agency contracts as generally those are classified.
There is also another subsidiary of ParTechnology called Rome Research Corporation. This is another defense intelligence contractor based at the same address. According to GovernmentContractsWon.com this company has received a whopping $567,265,220 in defense/intelligence contracts since 2000. Since they share the same parent company it is possible some contracts are counted twice. But I didn’t immediately see any overlap.
Okay. I guess I’m burying the lede here, but it would appear that the defense/intelligence subsidiaries discreetly tucked into PAR Technology Corporation are not the tail at all. No, they seem to be the dog. And between ADW Capital Partners and ADW Capital Management, Adam Wyden, son of Senator Wyden, controls 20% of these companies.
And guess who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence?
JFC! Shouldn’t someone investigate this shit?
Also, next time Wyden takes a stand on civil liberties, government spying or drone strikes? Remember it’s utter bullshit. His son seems to be waist-deep in all of it. So Sen Wyden doesn’t know? I don’t believe it for a minute.