In the war with Fox over retransmission fees, Cablevision has home-field advantage with local politicians, even though its political contributions are dwarfed by News Corp.’s.
The latter has made plenty of donations to high-profile political figures, making headlines recently with contributions to the Republican Governors Assn. and the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But its donations are spread much thinner geographically than Cablevision’s.
In the Northeast communities directly affected by the programming blackouts, Cablevision devotes significantly more funds to individual New York and New Jersey politicos than News Corp. That focus on local legislators appears to have yielded beneficial results for the company: The cable provider has been advertising the support of 27 legislators in the area affected by Fox’s WNYW/WWOR blackouts who are calling for both companies to submit to binding arbitration. Cablevision has sought arbitration and Fox has refused it.
Nearly all of these legislators have accepted some kind of contribution from Cablevision in recent years. The company (including its political action committee, its employees and their immediate family members) is the 20th-largest political donor to federal candidates and parties in New York state, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
These kinds of contributions aren’t irregular by any means.
Comcast is reportedly stepping up its own political donations, presumably to smooth the way for its acquisition of NBC Universal. But as Cablevision is demonstrating, not all political battles are fought in Washington, D.C.
The rally around Cablevision is bipartisan. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who accepted $2,500 from Cablevision’s PAC and $2,000 from individuals associated with the company in the 2009-10 cycle, came out swinging last week, calling on both sides to submit to arbitration and asking Fox not to pull its programming from the Long Island airwaves during the negotiation period. A day later, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) held a press conference at a sports bar in Plainview, where he called on both companies to keep the NFL’s New York Giants on the air. During 2009-10, $15,000 of Israel’s support came directly from Cablevision’s PAC, while $7,200 came from individuals. Cablevision is Israel’s largest single donor.
Of the money spent on the other federal legislators on the list, $10,000 went to Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.); $3,500 to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) via his D.C.-based Tim Bishop for Congress; and $3,000 each to N.J. Democratic Reps. Steve Rothman and Rep. Albio Sires. All of these donations came from Cablevision’s PAC. Sires, Rothman and Bishop have released statements calling for arbitration.
The cable provider’s reach extends beyond its coverage area. Cablevision employs D.C.-based law firm Mintz Levin, where former FCC chairman Charles Ferris is a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the company. The org’s PAC also contributes to Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), father of current FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and to John Kerry, who is drafting regulatory legislation to change the retransmission negotiation process.
Cablevision also contributes to higher-profile New Yorkers, including Sens. Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand and Reps. Charlie Rangel and Anthony Weiner, who have remained silent on the issue.
Although News Corp. has spent more over time, its contributions to individual local politicians in 2010 were actually slightly lower than Cablevision’s (though its lobbying expenditures were much higher). Of the 40 politicos to whom News Corp. gave the most money, only two were New Yorkers and none were from New Jersey.