Media execs, companies gave more than $350,000 to conservative super PACs

Big donors include Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell

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Samuel Zell, chairman of the Tribune Company, handed $200,000 to conservative super PACs in 2011. His media group owns 11 daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, 23 television stations, and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. 

Damian Dovarganes/AP

Conservative complaints about a liberal bias in the media do not hold up, at least not when it comes to the free-spending groups known as “super PACs.”

News companies and their executives donated more than $350,000 to conservative super PACs in 2011, according to financial disclosure forms filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

The donations included $100,000 from St. Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting to the American Crossroads super PAC, which was created by Bush White House strategist Karl Rove. Hubbard is a family-owned media company with a dozen local TV stations, 21 radio stations — including D.C.’s leading news channel WTOP — and a national cable channel.

The broadcaster did not respond to inquiries about the donation.

This appears to be the first time Executive Chairman Stanley S. Hubbard has made a political donation directly from corporate coffers. But the 77-year-old businessman and his wife Karen have already donated $210,759 to Republican candidates, parties and political action committees this election cycle, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of FEC filings.

Minnesota media reporter David Brauer notes that Hubbard, in the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race, donated $100,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group backing Republican nominee Tom Emmer. HBI subsequently donated $25,000 to Minnesota's Future, a group attacking Emmer's opponent, Mark Dayton, and $10,000 to Pro-Jobs Majority, which supported two legislative Republicans.

The donations have created problems for those at KSTP TV, the Hubbard-owned ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities. The newsroom was red-faced two years ago when it failed to disclose corporate entanglements in news stories about Minnesota Forward's ads.

Super PACs are political organizations that accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations to spend on political races. These groups were made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and another lower court decision.

The Los Angeles Times noted Tuesday that its beleaguered owner Sam Zell contributed $100,000 to Crossroads. He also chipped in another $50,000 for the Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and $50,000 to the New Prosperity Foundation, a conservative group.

Restore Our Future scored support from at least two other notable media executives. Steven Price, the chairman and CEO of Greenwich-based Townsquare Media, a company with 176 radio stations, donated $50,000. The group also received $10,000 from Michael White, the chairman and CEO of satellite dish company DirecTV.

A quick search of FEC filings for names or organizations associated with the news media did not turn up any donations given to progressive super PACs this election cycle.

But the stereotype about big-spending “Hollywood liberals” certainly held true in 2011.

One of the biggest super PAC donations in 2011 was $2 million from Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the co-founders DreamWorks Animation, to Priorities USA Action. Famed director Steven Spielberg also donated $100,000.

This story has been updated.

Did we miss any interesting media donors to super PACs? Search the California Watch’s database and let us know what you find via email (chiar@publicintegrity.org) or in the comments below.