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Disney lobbyist Preston Padden to exit

Padden, who has represented media firms in Washington for more than three decades, will join the University of Colorado Law School as a senior fellow and adjunct professor.

December 15, 2009|By Joe Flint

Walt Disney Co.'s Preston Padden, who has been one of the entertainment industry's biggest lobbyists in Washington for more than three decades, is retiring as executive vice president of worldwide government relations at the media giant.

Padden, 62, will leave his post in January to later become a senior fellow and adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Law School. He will continue to advise Disney on strategic issues in the interim.

Disney didn't name a replacement and said it was hiring a search firm to identify candidates. Richard Bates, Padden's No. 2 in Disney's Washington office, has been mentioned as a potential successor to Motion Picture Assn. of America Chief Executive Dan Glickman, who is stepping down next year.

As part of Padden's departure, Disney said it was putting Alan Braverman, its general counsel, over the company's Washington operations. Padden had reported directly to Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger.

Among the key issues facing Disney in Washington are piracy and media regulation. Theft of intellectual property has become such a problem for the industry that Vice President Joe Biden is holding a meeting Tuesday with entertainment industry leaders and key government officials at the White House to discuss how to stop piracy. As one of the biggest content producers and owner of ESPN and other cable networks, Disney uses its Washington office to engage in battles over cable programming costs. Disney also owns many big-city television stations that are subject to government oversight.

While many Washington insiders prefer to keep a low profile and work behind the scenes, Padden cut a wide swath in the media world. A brash executive, Padden relished his reputation as an in-your-face lobbyist willing to take on lawmakers and industry rivals over issues including cable regulation and the merger of America Online and Time Warner.

Padden first rose to prominence at News Corp., where he oversaw its Washington operation when the Fox network was just getting off the ground and needed help from regulators to grow. Fox had a strong run of FCC wins on his watch.

But at Disney, Padden had to be reined in and adjust his style to the company's less confrontational approach.

Although Padden was a practiced Washington insider, his efforts to move beyond the Beltway were less successful. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch tapped him to lead the company's short-lived satellite venture, America Sky Broadcasting, which never got off the ground. Disney named him president of the ABC network, but that stint also didn't last long.

Padden is the second senior Disney executive to leave the company in the last three months. Earlier this fall, former Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook was forced out by Iger, who was unhappy with the performance of the movie division.

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