US media dig deep for politicians

Political donations by US media companies
The Guardian (England), Apr. 7, 2003
http://media.guardian.co.uk/
Annie Lawson

Political donations by US television and radio stations have almost doubled in the last year, research has shown.

And the Bush family’s association with many media organisations runs deep and is reflected by the hefty handouts from the likes of NBC network owner General Electric and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, both trenchant supporters of the war.

The amount of money ploughed into party coffers by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV, NBC and radio giant Clear Channel among others has gone up to £7.56m in 2001/2002, compared with just £4.6m in 2000, the latest figures reveal.

Media companies have shown that they have deep pockets when it comes to politics, with the level of contributions made over the last decade growing ninefold, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, a US research group that tracks money and politics.

The support President Bush has received from the corporate sector is evidenced by the unprecedented $100m he raised when he decided to run for president.

And although donations by many media organisations are made to both Republicans and Democrats, their support of the Bush administration is exposed by what researchers call “soft money” donations – sponsorship and support for general party activities.

For example, just 24% of News Corp’s donations to political parties went to Mr Bush, but almost 90% of the “soft money” went to the Republicans.

Sheila Krumholz, the CRP’s head of research, said while the entertainment industry had become more bi-partisan, “soft money” donations tended to reflect the views of the proprietor.

“When you are speaking of the executives and corporation itself, the donations are typically representative of their economic interest of the organisation and are dictated by whoever is in power.”

Figures show that NBC network owner General Electric and News Corporation, owner of the Fox and Sky television networks and the New York Post, tipped the bulk of their soft money funds into Republican coffers in 2001-02. The two media giants are among the most prolific donors, according the data reported to the US federal electoral commission.

General Electric directed nearly 60% of overall donations – $1.92m – to the Republicans in 2001-02. The party received nearly twice the amount in soft money donations.

Ms Krumholz, the centre’s research director, said media multinationals have a history of dipping their financial fingers in the political pie to protect their corporate interests.

“Donations from media companies, as with all industries, have grown over the last decade,” she said.

However, their political loyalties have seeped to the surface during the coverage of the conflict in Iraq.

News Corp, whose Fox network is renowned for its creative approach to US journalistic objectivity, donated $427,487 in soft money to the Republicans in 2001-02. Much of this was directed to the party’s national and congressional committees, and a large portion came from either individuals or the companies associated with the Fox network.

However, News Corp’s overall contributions favoured the Democrats, as people associated with the company gave 76% of the $1.85m in overall donations to the Democrats.

Ms Krumholz said overall donations include contributions from employees, who tend to be more left-leaning in media than other businesses.

Murdoch’s media empire still has close ties with the Bush family. The relationship was recently put under the spotlight when it was revealed that Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes, a former Republican party strategist, secretly acted as an advisor to the president in the days after the September 11 terrorist strikes.

Global radio giant Clear Channel recently reignited concerns about companies that control mainstream media and snuggle up to political parties, following its controversial sponsorship of pro-war rallies in the US.

The media group, which controls 1,225 radio stations across the US and is the world’s largest radio empire, also attracted scathing criticism for dropping the Dixie Chicks from its network playlist after its lead singer publicly declared her opposition to the war.

The company’s founder, Lowry Mays, ensured the majority of the $503,910 donations made in 2001-02 landed in the Republican party’s coffers.

But his company’s links with the Bush family run deeper.

Media watchdog takebackthemedia.com this week published the elaborate web of connections that further align Clear Channel with the Bush family.

Mays, who took advantage of radio deregulation and transformed Clear Channel into a global multimedia player, is associated with the president through the University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO). Mays sits on the governing board, alongside Clear Channel vice-chairman Thomas Hicks, whose family is believed to have contributed over $500,000 to Bush campaigns over the years.

Hicks, a long-time friend and supporter of President Bush, heads the UTIMCO board but his position was recently embroiled in controversy when it emerged he awarded UTIMCO-funded contracts to firms politically associated with the Bush dynasty.

Hicks also bought the Texas Rangers American football team from Bush for $250 million in 1998, three times the amount that Bush and his partners had originally paid.

The Bush clan is also closely associated with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon-backed Washington Times, whose founder is the notorious leader of the Unification Church cult. The Bush family and Moon are reportedly closely intertwined, with Bush senior having received hefty lecturing fees from the church leader.

However, the flow of funds from press and publishing has declined from $15.04m in 2000 to $7.09m in 2002.

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