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Click Here: <A HREF="http://www.public-i.org/story_01_092600.htm">Media Firms
Buy Their Way To Political Access</A>

Media Firms Buy Their Way
To Political Access
By Bill Allison
(Washington, Sept. 27) The largest media firms have gained the kind of access
to the political process that only money can buy, according to a new report
from the Center for Public Integrity. “Off the Record: What Media
Corporations Don’t Tell You About Their Legislative Agendas” documents the
influence that the large broadcasting, cable and publishing conglomerates
wield in Washington.

In all, media corporations have pumped $75 million into the coffers of
federal candidates and parties since 1993. Since 1996, they’ve spent $111.3
million lobbying lawmakers and federal regulators. They’ve lobbied on issues
ranging from protecting intellectual property to eliminating the estate tax.
They’ve fought against restrictions on tobacco advertising in print and
alcohol advertising on the air, for eliminating the Federal Communications
Commission’s rules designed to prevent the concentration of the public
airwaves and the press in too few hands. They’ve fought against campaign
finance reform measures. They’ve even blocked non-binding resolutions
expressing the sense of Congress that television programming featuring
graphic violence shouldn’t be aired when young children are likely to be

Deepest pockets: Time Warner
Time Warner Inc. has the deepest pockets, the Center found. The company spent
nearly $4.1 million for lobbying last year, and since 1993, Time Warner and
its employees have contributed $4.6 million to congressional and presidential
candidates and the two political parties. On Nov. 17, 1999, to great fanfare,
the company announced it would no longer make “soft money” contributions to
the political parties.

(In the broadest sense, “soft money” is raised through party committees,
interest groups, corporations, labor unions or the wealthy. It is supplied in
limitless chunks, and is beyond Federal Election Commission regulation.)

Apparently, Time Warner’s top executives felt no need to follow their
company’s new line. Last Feb. 28, Timothy Boggs, the company’s senior vice
president for global public policy, gave $20,000 to the Democratic National
Committee, Federal Election Commission records show. On April 28, Robert A.
Daly, an executive with the company’s Warner Brothers subsidiary, gave the
DNC $50,000. On June 30, Richard Parsons, the company’s president, gave
$50,000 to the Republican National Committee.

The second heaviest media spender in Washington is the Walt Disney Co., which
paid $3.3 million for lobbying and just under $4.1 million in political
donations during the same times. Disney’s top executives have been cozy with
Vice President Al Gore, who was a guest of Michael Eisner, the company’s
chairman and chief executive officer, at a 1994 screening of The Lion King.
In  1995, staffers for Gore and his wife, Tipper, requested and received two
“Beauty and the Beast” costumes worth $8,600, custom-made in Los Angeles to
the Gores’ precise measurements, for their annual Halloween party. The day
before the event, the costumes arrived in Washington, along with a makeup
artist to apply the mask that the vice president would wear. At the time,
Disney was awaiting Justice Department and FCC approval of its $19 billion
acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., which owned the American Broadcasting
Co. (The deal was approved months later.) Disney is among Gore’s most
generous media supporters, having contributed $68,000 over the course of the
politician’s career.

Media gave $1 million each to Bush, Gore
Regardless of who wins in November, the next president will have gotten to
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. with more than $1 million in political donations from
media interests, the Center found. Gore has taken in $1.16 million; Texas
Gov. George W. Bush has received $1.07 million. Gore’s media money comes
mostly from the larger media conglomerates, such as Disney, Time Warner and
Viacom Inc.; Bush draws more heavily from smaller, regional broadcast and
cable companies.

Topping the list of Bush’s media patrons is AMFM Inc., owned by Hicks, Muse,
Tate & Furst, Inc., of Dallas, a firm that specializes in leveraged buyouts.
AMFM, the nation’s largest chain of radio stations, and its various
subsidiaries  have contributed $80,250 to Bush’s presidential campaign.
Thomas Hicks, the firm’s chairman, bought the Texas Rangers baseball team for
$250 million in 1998 from the ownership group that included Bush. (The high
sale price for the relatively small-market team was due in no small part to
the taxpayer-financed stadium, the Ballpark at Arlington, which was built for
the team while Bush, whose portion of the profit on the sale was $14.3
million, was an owner.) The Rangers aren’t Hicks’ only sports property — he
also owns a hockey team, the Dallas Stars. In 1997, Gov. Bush shepherded a
bill through the state legislature that allowed a sales tax increase to fund
a new arena for the team, as well as for the city’s NBA franchise, the Dallas

Media have wide influence

The close ties of media firms to the top two presidential candidates are just
one measure of their clout in Washington, as documented by the Center. On
virtually every issue of concern to the industry, from oversight by the FCC
to the allocation of the digital spectrum, from regulating violent content on
the airwaves to campaign finance reform, the media wield tremendous
influence, the Center found. Media firms have even gotten into bed with the
tobacco industry to protect their interests.

In its June 9, 1997, issue, Time magazine ran a cartoon depicting an
emaciated Joe Camel lying in a hospital bed on life support, a victim of
respiratory illness. At the time, the tobacco industry wasn’t feeling
particularly well, either. The big cigarette manufacturers were negotiating
the terms of the settlement agreement with the state attorneys general that
would result in billions of payoffs from the industry and the end of Joe
Camel advertisements for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s products and
Marlboro Man billboards touting Philip Morris Cos. Inc.

At one point, the companies offered to drop the full-page advertisements they
ran in glossy magazines, pulling the Marlboro Man from the pages of Sports
Illustrated and “You’ve come a long way, baby” from Vogue. Although the
settlement was still two years away, magazine publishers began panicking
immediately. The lost revenue would have amounted to an estimated $1.1
billion. MediaWeek, a trade journal that tracks trends in that industry,
wrote that while the agreement might get tobacco companies out of their legal
difficulties, “the deal would also sell magazines that carry tobacco ads
right down the river.”

Companies publish tobacco magazines

MediaWeek also reported that, shortly after news of a self-imposed magazine
advertising ban had leaked out, representatives from Philip Morris met with
officials from Time Inc., the Time Warner subsidiary that publishes Time,
Fortune, People  and Sports Illustrated, and the Hearst Corp., which bills
itself as the largest publisher of magazines in the world. The Philip Morris
executives soothed the fears of the magazine publishers. They assured them
“that the alleged proposal was nothing to worry about.”

How Corporate Spending Blocked Political Ad Reform & Other Stories of
Influence. (October issue)

Joe Camel might be gone, but his replacements generate serious revenue for
publishers who depend on ad dollars to survive, and the media are eager to
protect that revenue source. Since 1996, the Magazine Publishers of America
has spent $1,742,000 to lobby for the interests of its members, specifically
to halt such tobacco legislation as the Healthy and Smoke Free Children Act
of 1998, which would have given the Food and Drug Administration the
authority to regulate cigarette advertising. The magazine publishers spent
thousands of dollars to help the tobacco companies escape FDA regulation, all
in the name of advertising revenue.

Now some publishers have gone further. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.,
Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds all have launched magazines of their own.
They’ve contracted with Time, Hearst, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, Inc.
(publisher of Woman’s Day, Elle and Car and Driver), and EMAP Petersen, Inc.
(which counts Teen, Hot Rod and Motor Trend among its titles), to produce
their publications. The tobacco firms paid upward of $650 million in 1999,
according to the New York Times, to the four publishers to produce the glossy
magazines, complete with ads for Marlboros, Camels and Kools.

Brown & Williamson has teamed with Hearst to produce three titles, including
Flair, aimed at women (which suitably carries ads for the company’s
“female-oriented brands Capri and Misty and the ultra-low tar product
Carlton,” and Real Edge, a men’s magazine patterned after Maxim and directed
at young men. Time Inc.’s Wink Media division produces CML: The Camel
Quarterly, for R.J. Reynolds.

Nonetheless, the publishers have been remarkably silent in their pages about
their own financial interests in the tobacco settlement. A Lexis-Nexis search
of Time Inc.’s publications found just a single reference in Fortune to the
money the company earned from carrying tobacco ads. Indeed, their ability to
shape coverage is what makes the media such effective lobbying forces on
Capitol Hill. Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt told the Center that the media’s
power stems “from its near ubiquitous, pervasive power to completely alter
the beliefs of every American.”

Bill Allison is senior editor, major projects, at the Center for Public
Integrity. Erin Gallavan, Shannon Rebholz, Helen Sanderson and Derrick
Wetherell of the Center also contributed to this report.

To write a letter to the editor for publication, send to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] Please include a daytime telephone number.

Download the complete report in PDF format.

Related Reports:

*   Center Commentary: Profiteering from Democracy by Charles Lewis (Aug. 30)

*   Under the Influence: George W. Bush: Pragmatic, With Ties to Corporate
America. (March 2)

*   Under the Influence: Al Gore: You Can Take Gore Out of Washington, but
Not . . .  (March 2)

Related Links:

*   Time Warner announces its plan to support ban on "soft money." (Nov. 17,

*   Alliance for Better Campaigns

*   Let Them Eat Cable. (Editorial, Washington Post, Sept. 27)

*   First Amendment forbids mandatory free airtime for candidates, says
director of Radio-Television News Directors Association. (Freedom Forum
online, May 25)

© Copyright 2000, The Center for Public Integrity. All rights reserved.

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