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Mellencamp rule? Public indignation while collecting royalties?

By   /   April 16, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Ain’t that America?

Rocker John Mellencamp may not care for conservative icons such as Wisconsin Republican Gov.Scott Walker using his pop anthems to pump up campaign crowds, but it seems Mellencamp isn’t turning down any royalty checks from GOP candidates.

A spokesman for the artist last week told The Associated Press news service that he sent Walker an email, reminding the embattled Republican governor of Mellencamp’s support of varied liberal causes.

Walker, like many conservatives before him, has used Mellencamp’s 1985 Top 10 hit, “Small Town,” on his campaign stops, as the governor fights a massive recall effort against him. The recall campaign, in large part, is driven by organized labor, both inside and outside Wisconsin, furious over Walker’s Act 10 which stripped collective bargaining from most public employees.

Bob Merlis, Mellencamp’s publicist, on Monday told Wisconsin Reporter that he is now under “standing orders” to reach out to conservative campaigns and tell them that they are free to use Mellencamp’s material, but that the musician stands behind organized labor and collective bargaining.

“I don’t know that he thinks much about Gov. Walker. I know he thinks people should have the right to collective bargaining,” Merlis said, noting the Farm Aid co-founder’s resume of liberal causes, like his appearance at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and his involvement in the Vote for Change concert tour that same year opposing the policies of then-Republican President George W. Bush.

Mellencamp has on several occasions advised conservative campaigns that hit songs, such “Small Town,” Our Country,” or “Pink Houses,” aren’t the kind of “jingoistic, flag-waving, screw-labor” songs that Republican politicians believe them to be, Merlis said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate in 2008, quickly curtailed use of a Mellencamp song on the campaign trail after the pop star’s people emailed McCain.

Merlis said Mellencamp never demands that campaigns cease and desist. The idea is to remind them of Mellencamp’s political leanings.

It was not clear Monday whether the Walker campaign had clipped the Mellencamp song from its playlist. Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews did not return several phone calls and emails from Wisconsin Reporter.

If Mellencamp is indignant about Republican candidates rolling out his songs in the promotion of conservative ideas, he doesn’t seem to be passing up any royalty checks.

Campaigns generally pay blanket licensing fees to public-performance societies Ascap or BMI, which pay royalties to members, including the songwriters. Just how much artists receive is based on different calculations, and representatives from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or Ascap, and Broadcast Music Inc., or BMI, could not specifically say how much money Mellencamp has made from campaigns’ use of his music.

Several liberal musicians have applied pressure on campaigns to stop playing their songs in recent years.

When McCain rolled out “Johnny B. Goode,” Chuck Berry made clear his intentions to support Barack Obama, according to a 2008 Daily Beast article. Soul singer Sam Moore, of the 1960s group Sam and Dave, told Obama to “hold off playing ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’,’” according to the online publication.

John Hall, once part of the pop band Orleans and a New York Democratic congressman, threatened a cease-and-desist letter against McCain and President George W. Bush for their use of Orleans 1970s hit “Still the One,” according to the Daily Beast.

Lawsuits on copyright licenses can be onerous. Kay Clary, executive director of media relations for BMI, said that if an artist complains enough to campaigns, it taints the association of the songs and becomes a public relations problem that campaigns don’t want.

By his website’s count, Mellencamp has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, earning the artist millions of dollars and putting him squarely in the 1 percent club of America’s wealthiest people decried by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Merlis said he cannot say with certainty what his client’s net worth is because Mellencamp has not made his tax returns public.

“He’s a wealthy man, there’s no beating around the bush,” Merlis said. “You can be a progressive and be wealthy, like Warren Buffett.”

Merlis said he is sure Mellencamp pays his fair share of taxes and would pay more under the so-called “Buffett Rule,” proposed by President Barack Obama and named after multibillionaire and tax change advocate Buffett to diminish perceived income inequality in the United States.

“I don’t know if (Mellencamp) is lobbying for it, but he would,” Merlis said.

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