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Rep. Mary Bono Forms Copyrights Caucus

Rep. Mary Bono, who is forming a new congressional caucus on music piracy and copyrights, sought Monday to defuse speculation over whether she wants to run the music industry’s lobbying organization in Washington, saying she isn’t actively seeking the job.

Bono, R-Calif., said she hasn’t considered whether she would accept a prospective offer to replace the departing chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America but stopped short of denying she was interested.

Her spokeswoman, Cindy Hartley, earlier had described the position as Bono’s “ideal job” but said her boss wasn’t actively pursuing the position and plans to run for re-election.

“I am not actively seeking that job,” Bono said. “I have not talked to them, they have not talked to me. I haven’t put myself through the mental gymnastics about whether I would or wouldn’t take that job. I have my ideal job. I’m very happy where I am.”

Political watchdog groups in Washington questioned the idea of a member of Congress being a possible job candidate for the music industry’s lobby and a founding member of a caucus to focus on some of the industry’s most important policy concerns.

“It certainly raises eyebrows,” said Steven Weiss of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Angering the RIAA is certainly not going to advance her job prospects, so one must wonder whether her views on this issue are motivated more by personal beliefs or her future career.”

The RIAA represents major U.S. music labels and has aggressively battled the threat facing its artists from Internet pirates offering songs free for downloading using file-sharing software. Its current chief executive, Hilary Rosen, is leaving at month’s end after serving as chief executive since 1998.

Bono is among four founding members of a new caucus on intellectual property rights being announced Tuesday on Capitol Hill. She said Monday night she hasn’t seriously considered whether she wants the RIAA job.

“I’ve got better things to do than to run something like that through my head when it’s not even something on the table,” she said.

The RIAA would not say whether Bono was a candidate for its top job, although Rosen has said, “I think she’s great.”

“We are not commenting on the search process except to say it’s ongoing,” spokeswoman Amy Weiss said.

Bono’s financial disclosure forms, released Monday, show that she and her children own copyrights on Sonny Bono’s music collections worth between $580,000 and $1.3 million from the RIAA, Warner Music Group and the Bono Collection Trust. They earned royalties in 2002 worth between $210,000 and $1.225 million. Sonny Bono, the congresswoman’s husband, died in a skiing accident in January 1998. She replaced him in Congress.

Her interest in the RIAA job was reported during the weekend on Billboard.com, the Web site for Billboard magazine. Bono said Monday that confusion over the remarks attributed to her own staffers “has taken on a life of its own.”

The director of Consumers Union, which has battled the RIAA over the rights of consumers to make digital copies of music they buy, complained that Bono’s remarks about wanting the industry job raised questions.

“We certainly hope the congresswoman is not putting her own personal interests ahead of the policy concerns of her constituents or the nation,” Gene Kimmelman said. “It certainly creates an appearance question about what her true motivation is.”

Bono, who easily won re-election in 2002 in a relatively safe congressional district for Republicans, is a member of the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. Campaign records indicate that Hollywood and the music industry were among her top contributors in the 2002 election, giving $22,100.

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