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With Another $1 Million Donation, Murdoch Expands His Political Sphere
10-02-2010, 06:09 PM,
With Another $1 Million Donation, Murdoch Expands His Political Sphere
Quote:Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is playing a larger and more directly partisan role in this year’s elections than it is known to have played in any previous American campaign.

The news late Thursday that the company, whose holdings include the Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, had given $1 million to a business coalition that is advertising heavily against Democrats came roughly two months after election filings showed that its News America division had given $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

The latest disclosure of a large donation by the News Corporation, to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is largely working to elect Republicans this year, drew swift condemnation from Democrats and liberal groups. They cited it as more evidence that Mr. Murdoch was pursuing a political agenda.

“What these contributions make clear is that the Republican Party is a division of News Corporation, just as Fox News is a division of News Corporation,” the Democratic National Committee said Friday in a statement that was echoed by other Democratic and liberal groups.

Had it not been disclosed in news reports — first by on Thursday night — the donation would not have had to have been made public by the News Corporation. As a 501©(6) trade association, the chamber is not required to disclose its donors publicly.

Under tax rules, it must funnel its donations into a general fund used for all of its activities, political and nonpolitical alike. Its donors are not permitted to direct funds to specific political uses.

Still, word of the News Corporation’s donation fed what was already a heightened focus on its role in this year’s campaign. The chamber has been particularly active in this election, vowing to spend $75 million on behalf of candidates who are for the most part Republican (exceptions include its support for Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat, in his bid for the Senate, and Representative Walt Minnick, Democrat of Idaho).

Mr. Murdoch’s more prominent involvement in American politics comes at a time when campaign finance rules have effectively been loosened in ways that require less disclosure of donations and have facilitated a flood of money into independent groups that are intervening directly in many races, with the bulk of the spending this year benefiting Republicans.

And the criticism of Mr. Murdoch’s donations played out before a backdrop of new, open sniping between the White House and Fox News, which President Obama criticized in a new Rolling Stone interview as advancing “a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”

Fox News Channel officials said Friday that they had learned of the donations on Thursday night from the news media, and they referred questions to the News Corporation, which declined to comment. A spokeswoman for The Wall Street Journal also would not comment.

News Corporation officials have said in the past that its giving is entirely separate from its news operations and is instead related to its broader corporate interests, which include publishing, film and television concerns.

In previous years, its political action committee — like those of its media industry rivals — has given to Democrats and Republicans alike as it has pursued a robust agenda in Washington. (On Thursday, Mr. Murdoch testified on Capitol Hill in favor of overhauling the immigration system, an issue opposed by most conservative Republicans.)

But the News Corporation’s donations to the U.S. Chamber and the Republican Governors Association were different for their heft and the nature of the groups, which can accept unlimited, unregulated donations to pursue hardball political campaigns, which both groups are doing this year.

And their disclosure this political season has pointed up the central role that Fox News is increasingly playing during the Obama years, with its opinionated talk show hosts openly advocating against the administration and liberal groups like Media Matters regularly questioning its overall approach.

So tense have things gotten that the White House adviser David Axelrod has had discussions with the Fox News chairman, Roger Ailes, but to little avail.

On Friday, Fox News executives implied that politics were involved in a lawsuit brought this week by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a current Fox News Channel correspondent, Catherine Herridge, who lodged a complaint that the network had discriminated against her based on her age and gender and then retaliated against her for making complaints.

Saying the commission had previously dismissed a vast majority of the charges contained in Ms. Herridge’s complaint when it was first filed two years ago because there was insufficient evidence, Dianne Brandi, Fox News’s executive vice president for legal and business affairs, said in a statement, “The E.E.O.C.’s suspiciously timed press release is nothing more than a partisan statement about a politically motivated lawsuit.”

The White House did not comment on the implication that the lawsuit was somehow tied to its continuing sniping with Fox News or the News Corporation. Commission officials denied any connection and said it was not uncommon to proceed with lawsuits on narrower grounds than those of the initial complaint.

On Friday, the Huffington Post quoted Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, as saying that the News Corporation was being unfairly singled out among media companies. “NBC gives us money,” Mr. Barbour said.

While NBC does not give the association money, its parent company, General Electric, does. But General Electric said it similarly gave this year to the Democratic Governors Association. Comcast, which is acquiring a majority stake in the General Electric unit that holds NBC News and MSNBC, has also given to both governors’ associations.

The News Corporation has not given to the Democratic association, and officials at the company would not comment on what other groups they donate to, on the left or right of the political spectrum.

Mr. Murdoch is a pragmatic business executive and has given to Democrats as well as Republicans over the years. In fact, the News Corporation’s American political action committee, which gives regulated donations to candidates in increments in the low thousands of dollars. An analysis by the Web site CQ MoneyLine says the company has given $106,500 to Democrats this year as opposed to $79,700 to Republicans.

Last month, Mr. Murdoch found himself hobnobbing with Mr. Axelrod, the White House adviser, at a charity dinner at the Manhattan headquarters of the charitable foundation of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. Mr. Axelrod dismissed talk that the two had squared off over Fox News’s White House coverage, though he declined to go into details of the discussion.

As for Mr. Murdoch’s recent giving, Mr. Axelrod said that he had no reason to doubt that Mr. Murdoch’s decisions about donations were kept from Fox News executives. Still, he said, “it certainly sends a signal as to what the corporate position is.”

He added, “If you’re pushing a point of view there, you wouldn’t take it as a disincentive to keep going.”

An executive at Fox News who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity expressed “astonishment” over Mr. Obama’s focus on the network. “We are so in his head,” he said. “Can you believe with all the other things going on in this world he’s preoccupied with Fox News?”
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