Pols find funding from TV folks
Media bucks — particularly from cablers and broadcasters — have been drifting noticeably to the right in campaign 2006.Never mind the GOP drive to boost indecency fines tenfold, or that some Republicans openly talk of regulating cable content. More pressing issues are at hand — or will be — hence, the fact that so far this campaign season, the most generous political contributors among entertainment entities are mostly TV-oriented. They are, in order, the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., Comcast, the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Clear Channel and Time Warner. Media coin generally funnels to pols through a company’s political action committee, or through individual donations and fundraisers generated independently of the company PAC. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors federal records of political donations, media PACs alone have so far given $4.2 million to campaigns, favoring the GOP with 60% of that cash. That’s up from 54% to Republicans in the last midterm election in 2002. That’s also on track for a record, as media PACs gave $500,000 less for the whole 2002 cycle. When individual donations are factored in, media dollars total $15.2 million, running 58% in favor of Dems, suggesting media types themselves are far more liberal in their politics and with their wallets than their companies. But in 2002, Dems got 77% of all media cash flowing into politics. Are media execs becoming less liberal while the companies become more conservative? Not necessarily. “It’s really just a reflection of more people recognizing and accepting that Republicans are in power,” says one industry exec. It’s also a reflection of the issues du jour. Congress already has acted on indecency by increasing fines, and the ongoing battle — almost guaranteed every election year — has recently shifted to the courts, where the Big Four nets are challenging recent FCC indecency rulings. Those challenges stand a good chance of leading to revision — or even rescission — of FCC indecency authority. Cablers are more concerned about possible legislation on so-called ‘Net neutrality: the idea that telecoms should be required to charge the same rates to content sites and users alike, regardless of how much bandwidth they use. Democrats have cast themselves as the defenders of consumers, who will be gouged, the pols say, if Congress doesn’t enforce neutrality. Republicans favor a hands-off approach, as do cablers. “If you look at the sole issue of network neutrality, Republicans retaining control of both houses is better for the network owners,” says Legg Mason analyst and former FCC staffer Blair Levin. Small wonder that the NCTA’s PAC has been the most generous media donor so far, having given nearly $1.2 million, $718,000 to Republicans and $460,000 to Dems. Comcast’s PAC has given $581,000 so far, $306,000 to Republicans, $274,000 to Dems. In 2002, both NCTA and Comcast still favored Republicans, but by less of a margin. Among broadcasters’ top concerns is the FCC’s review of media ownership rules, which is likely to take a year to complete. Bank on newspapers and broadcasters — who’d like to see loosening of cross-ownership restrictions — pulling for Republicans, who tend to favor a light regulatory hand. While the 2006 donations reveal shifting patterns and allegiances, the fact remains that media still give to both parties — reflecting the prevailing corporate wisdom that you must give to both parties to be a player. “For companies like this, there are 15 different things they care about,” says Levin. “The reason they give to both sides is they want to be long-term players and that’s how the game is played.”
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