The growing controversy about alleged illegal hacking by employees of News Corp. has laid bare the company’s broad influence on British politics writ large. Over the past three decades, though, Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have been plenty active on this side of the pond, including a cool $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association last year.
And now the scope of that influence is starting to stir the political pot in Washington. In the wake of the scandal and a blossoming FBI investigation, some critics are already calling on lawmakers who have received money from the company’s corporate PAC and its chairman and CEO to return it. And others are demanding that Congress and the Obama administration investigate whether News Corp. employees have engaged in similar kinds of hacking stateside.
Over the last almost quarter century, News Corp. has made a lot of friends on both sides of the aisle. Murdoch, naturalized in 1985, made his first major federal donations in 1987 — beginning his political donations with a pair of $1,000 checks to a Democrat, then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. This would prove an anomaly, however, as over $300,000 of the more than $490,000 in contributions he’s personally made since have gone to Republicans and GOP committees, according to a Center for Public Integrity iWatch News analysis of campaign finance data.
His favorite recipients have included the National Republican Senatorial Committee (at least $76,000), the Republican National Committee (over $55,000), former U.S. Senator and current presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (over $10,000), and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (at least $9,300). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been his favorite Democrat, with at least $6,500 in donations to her U.S. Senate campaigns. According to campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Santorum also received at least $5,000 from News America’s corporate political action committee, while McConnell received more than $13,000 from the company’s PAC.
The corporate PAC, officially News America Holdings Inc-FOX Political Action Committee, has been a bit more balanced in its giving: its more than $1.2 million to candidates since the 1998 cycle have favored Republicans by about 51-49 percent. The five top beneficiaries of PAC donations were Reps. Edward Markey (a Massachusetts Democrat who has chaired the House Committee overseeing telecommunications, at least $30,000); Howard Berman (a California Democrat, at least $26,000), James Sensenbrenner (an Wisconsin Republican, at least $22,500), and Xavier Becerra and Mary Bono Mack (a California Democrat and California Republican, respectively, each with at least $20,500).
However, the façade of political equality was smashed by $1 million in corporate contributions each to the Republican Governors Association and the Chamber of Commerce in 2010. Murdoch defended the contributions — neither of which are subject to federal campaign limits — as “in the interest of our shareholders and the country.”
Beyond its political giving, News Corp. and News America have spent large sums on influencing federal policy through Washington lobbying. According to lobbying disclosure records, the company paid at least $215,000 in the first quarter of 2011 to five federal lobbying firms to advance its corporate interests. These included David Leach, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, and the Fritts Group, the Cormac Group, and the Glover Park Group.
It is not unusual for large media corporations to employ lobbying firms and to distribute large corporate PAC contributions. NBC Universal, CBS Corporation, and the Washington Post Company all reported 2011 lobbying.
Markey said in an email, “There is a serious inquiry that is under way, and I look forward to the results of this inquiry.” While noting that campaign contributors do “not receive any special treatment,” the veteran Massachusetts Democrat said he would closely monitor the developments as they unfold and make decisions about whether to return the News America PAC funds “as information becomes available.”
A State Department spokesman told iWatch News it would not be appropriate for the department to comment on Secretary Clinton’s previous political campaigns.
News Corp., Reps. Becerra, Berman, Bono Mack, and Sensenbrenner, Sens. McConnell and Santorum, the RNC, and the NRSC did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, who chairs the Senate’s commerce committee, called on U.S. agencies to investigate any News Corp. employee’s hacking of American victims of terrorism. New York Republican Rep. Peter King, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg have also called for U.S. investigations. The non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has called on Congress to initiate a similar investigation.
Reporters Peter Stone and Ben Wieder contributed to this report.