Hollywood PACs Hedge Bets Ahead Of Midterms, Playing Both Sides Of The Aisle
Judging by their campaign contributions, the political action committees connected to Hollywood’s mega-conglomerates and industry trade associations don’t seem to care much who wins Tuesday’s midterms. They’ve got bets down on both sides, though most of their money is riding on the Republicans.
AT&T’s PAC, the industry’s largest, doled out more than $5.5 million this election cycle to candidates and parties on both sides of tomorrow’s showdown – but most of it went to those who would keep the Democrats from flipping the House and the Senate.
Most other media PACs hedged their bets too including those run by the MPAA; Comcast and NBCUniversal; Disney; the National Association of Broadcasters; Charter Communications; Amazon; and the Internet & Television Association, formerly known as NCTA, the cable industry’s chief trade association. Of all the industry PACs that paid out more than $100,000, only the WGA West’s gave straight down party lines – and strictly to Democrats.
Industry PAC Contributions 2017-2018
AT&T: $5,521,279Comcast: $4,791,515NAB: $2,430,395Charter: $2,373,152NCTA: $1,933,420Amazon: $1,636,03221st Century Fox: $566,322Time Warner: $546,612IATSE: $448,606Viacom: $332,984Disney: $276,954DGA: $253,276WGA West: $205,111MPAA: $156,336WarnerMedia: $152,337CBS: $106,966
Source: Federal Election Commission
Splitting the ticket, AT&T gave $120,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and an equal amount split evenly between the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to its most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.
But AT&T gave the GOP the clear edge with a $60,000 donation to the National Republican Committee and a whopping $140,000 to outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Team Ryan leadership committee – the single largest donation made by any of Hollywood’s PACs. By contrast, Nancy Pelosi, who could be the next Speaker if the Democrats take back the House, didn’t get a dime from the industry giant that bought Time Warner this year for $85 billion.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, AT&T’s PAC gave $500,000 more to House Republicans than Democrats this cycle, and nearly twice as much to Senate Republicans than Democrats. It gave $10,000 to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas but nothing to his Dem challenger, Beto O’Rourke.
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AT&T’s federal PAC also funded numerous incumbent Republican congressmen who Democrats need to beat to take back the House, including Californians Devin Nunes and Steve Knight, who got $10,000 each, and Duncan Hunter, who got $5,000.
On the Democrat side, AT&T is supporting prominent Donald Trump-bashers Adam Schiff ($8,500), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz ($8,000), Eric Swalwell ($3,000) and Jerry Nadler ($2,000). It also gave $4,500 to civil rights icon John Lewis, who called Trump “a racist,” and $10,000 to Jim Clyburn, who has compared the president to Hitler. Hundreds of other contributions were made to federal candidates from both parties.
AT&T also has numerous state PACs that hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars to state and local politicians including governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general, mayors, secretaries of state, judges, state legislators, state treasurers, comptrollers, city attorneys, city councilmen, aldermen, county supervisors and even railroad commissioners. The top money, however, went to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff, who got more than $26,000.
“AT&T values responsible corporate governance and participates in the political process in an effort to formulate policies that benefit consumers, shareholders and the communities in which we operate,” the company said in its latest Political Engagement Report. “One of the many ways we encourage a dynamic public policy debate is by supporting a wide range of political candidates who are addressing the issues of greatest concern to the country.”
“While we do not always agree with every position taken by political candidates and political organizations, we do provide support where they have significant positions that align with our company’s core goals,” AT&T says, adding that it also “supports organizations that have important public policy positions which are impactful to the industry.”
Judging by its pattern of giving, AT&T appears confident that the company, the industry and the country all will prosper even if Republicans retain both houses of Congress, and even if an emboldened Trump remains unchecked for two more years – or longer. And the company believes that backing both parties also will benefit its shareholders and customers, though many of them no doubt will disagree with the company’s choices.
Like all the big-media PACs, AT&T’s largely is funded by voluntary contributions from its employees, who either can earmark their money for the candidates of their choice or leave the selection to a management committee. To help decide, AT&T built a “mechanized system” to request, process, evaluate and authorize its political contributions.
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This is how it works. “The mechanized system, which requires individual attention to each separate contribution request, also manages political contribution budgets and spending levels,” the company says. “AT&T built the mechanized system to ensure every request for a political contribution is legally reviewed and approved by management in strict compliance with its internal policy and procedures for Corporate Political Contributions.”
In all, AT&T says it has 30 separate state employee PACs and one federal employee PAC, each of which has a chairman, officers and a committee of employees engaged in the operation of the PACs. “Each employee Disbursement Committee, which determines the contributions that will be made, is comprised of management employees from various AT&T business units and management levels within the company. Consideration of a contribution to a candidate is largely based on the candidate’s position on issues of importance to AT&T’s business and the technology, media and telecommunications industry.”
The Comcast Corporation & NBCUniversal Political Action Committee made nearly $4.8 million in contributions to Democrats and Republicans alike in this two-year election cycle. No other industry PAC even comes close to swinging that much weight, or that much cash, according to FEC filings, though contributions still are pouring in that haven’t been updated on the FEC’s site.
The industry’s other PACs operate along similar lines, though it’s unclear whether they use a “mechanical device” to select and approve their contributions.
The Comcast Corporation & NBCUniversal PAC bet on both sides in the Lone Star State, giving $5,000 to the Republican Party of Texas on the same day it gave the same amount to the Texas Democratic Party.
Scoring points no matter which party wins control of the Senate, Comcast also donated $15,000 to the NRCS this year and $15,000 to the DSCC. It also donated $5,000 to the New Jersey Republican State Committee and $5,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, and $5,000 to the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and the same amount to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania.
The Comcast PAC is also funded by the voluntary donations of its employees, many of whom may be surprised to learn that they’ve donated $5,000 to support the reelection campaigns of both Ted Cruz and Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But to hedge their bet, they’ve also given $2,500 to House Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell, who has accused his chairman of being “willing to risk the republic to protect the president, to risk the rule of law to help the president’s case in the Russian investigation.”
“Participation in political activities is important to protect and achieve the business objectives of Comcast,” the company says, noting on its website that “Political contributions are made from employee-funded political action committees that are sponsored by Comcast. The Comcast PACs are operated by a board of directors, chaired by the senior executive vice president. When permitted by law, political contributions are also made out of corporate funds.” The PAC’s treasurer is William Dordelman, senior vice president and treasurer for the Comcast Corporation.
NAB, which bills itself as “the voice of America’s radio and television broadcasters,” is the industry’s second-largest political action committee, with $2.4 million in contributions to both parties this cycle – about half as much as Comcast. And it too spreads the wealth around regardless of party.
In January, its PAC gave $15,000 to the National Republican Senate Committee, and that same month it gave the same amount to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Along those same bipartisan lines, it gave $5,000 to the House Conservatives Fund – whose mission is to “raise the money, recruit conservative candidates, and win congressional races all over the country” – and another $5,000 to the Moderate Democrats PAC, known as the Mod Squad, which supports centrist Democratic incumbents and candidates for the US Senate.
National Association of Broadcasters
NAB also gave $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year and $15,000 to the Victory Fund of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who stands to become Speaker of the House if Republicans hold on to their majority.
NAB says that the mission of its PAC is to “support candidates for political office who champion broadcast issues,” but that’s hard to square with the $5,000 it gave to Jim Jordan, a founding member of the House Republican Conference’s far-right Freedom Caucus, who has echoed Trump’s claim that CNN is “fake news.”
NAB’s larger contributions tend to go to conservative Trump supporters. It handed out $20,000 to Team Ryan, the Speaker’s fundraising committee, and $15,000 each to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s Leadership Fund, Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry’s Team Henry and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. Nevada’s Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s HellerHighWater PAC got $9,000 this year, Marco Rubio’s Reclaim America PAC got $5,000, and another $5,000 went toSen. Lindsey Graham’s the Fund for America’s Future.
On the Democratic side, NAB gave more than $10,000 this year to Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, $8,000 to Sen. Sherrod Brown, $5,000 to House Minority Leader Pelosi, $5,000 to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, $4,500 each to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Claire McCaskill and $1,000 to Rep. Maxine Waters.
The MPAA’s PAC, meanwhile, handed out more than $156,000 this election cycle to candidates on both sides of the aisle. It gave more than $12,000 to the Senate 2018 Impact committee to help elect Democratic senators; $3,500 to Sen. Claire McCaskill; and $3,000 each to incumbent Dem senators Feinstein, Klobuchar, Sheldon Whitehouse, Ben Cardin and Debbie Stabenow.
But the MPAA PAC also gave money to help Republicans keep control of the House and Senate. It contributed $2,000 to the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee, $5,000 to Kevin McCarthy’s Victory Fund, $2,000 to Mitch McConnell’s Majority Leader Committee, $5,000 to Texas Congressman Kevin Brady and $3,000 each to Sens. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Johnny Wicker of Mississippi.
Amazon’s PAC, with more than $1.6 million in political contributions, gave $30,000 to both the DCCC and the NRCC, and $15,000 to each of the DSCC and the NRSC. Keeping things even, it gave $10,000 to Progressive Americans for Democracy and $10,000 to the More Conservatives PAC.
Gearing up the midterms last November, the Amazon PAC Team sent an email to the media conglomerate’s employees asking them for donations. “The Amazon PAC gives voice to the interests of Amazon’s customers and fosters a positive environment for our unique business within the US federal system. The Amazon PAC contributes to congressional candidates from both parties whose views are supportive on issues important to the customer experience, such as net neutrality and consumer privacy.
“In short, the Amazon PAC helps us to tell our story, and that of our customers, in Washington, D.C. But we need your help. Federal law requires that the Amazon PAC rely only on voluntary contributions from Amazonians like you, as the company itself is not allowed to donate to federal candidates. There is a strict $5,000 per person maximum contribution to the PAC, so the collective action of all of our eligible employees is needed to give Amazon a voice in the political system.”
Charter’s PAC, with more than $2.3 million in donations, favored Republicans over Democrats by 55% to 45% and gave three times more to Republican PACs and committees than to Democratic ones, according to FEC data mined by the Center for Responsive Politics. It gave nearly $100,000 to the Republicans’ NRSC and $65,000 to the NRCC but only $30,000 to the Democrats’ DSCC.
The NCTA PAC made nearly $2 million in political contributions and saw a similar split, with Republican candidates again getting 55% of the donations and their committees and PACs receiving twice as much as Democrats. For instance, the GOP’s NRCC and NRSC each got $30,000, while the Dems’ DCCC and SSCC only got $15,000 each.
Viacom’s PAC handed out more than $330,000, and it too played both sides of the fence. This cycle, it gave $7,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to help Democrats take control of the Senate, but it also gave $7,500 to the National Republican Senate Committee to help Republicans hold control of the Senate. It gave $4,500 to Schiff, but it also gave $2,000 to Nunes, his bitter rival on the House Intelligence Committee. Viacom also gave $5,000 to Team Ryan to help Republicans keep control of the House, but it gave $5,000 to the New Democrat Coalition to help moderate Democrats wrest control of the House from the Republicans.
That same bipartisan spirit of giving to both sides of a dogfight also can be seen at the Walt Disney Productions Employees PAC, which made more than $275,000 in political contributions this cycle, and at the Twenty-First Century Fox PAC, which gave a combined $550,000-plus to candidates of both parties.
The Disney PAC gave $12,500 to the McCarthy Victory Fund to help Republicans hold on to their majority in the House, and $5,000 to New Democratic Coalition – and the same amount to the Blue Momentum PAC – to help Democrats take it away from them. It also gave $2,500 to the McConnell for Majority Leader Committee to help Republicans hold on to the Senate, and $15,000 to the Senate 2018 Impact fund to help Democrats take it back.
Disney says that its PAC “accepts voluntary contributions from employees and in turn makes contributions to candidates for federal offices. Contributions from the political action committee to candidates are split evenly between candidates for the two major parties, but otherwise are allocated on the basis of our objectives and policy priorities and not on the basis of the partisan affiliation of the candidate or organization.”
The Fox PAC, meanwhile, gave $15,000 to the National Republican Senate Committee and $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee to help Republicans hold on to control of Congress – and the exact same amounts to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to help Democrats take it back.
WarnerMedia’s PAC, which made more than $150,000 in contributions, gave mostly to Democrats, including $27,300 to Senate Victory 2018 and $15,000 to Senate 2018 Impact, as well as numerous contributions to individual Democratic Senate and House candidates. But it also gave $10,000 to the campaign committe of Republican Bob Goodlatte, the outgoing chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to pass around to other GOP candidates. It also gave smaller contributions to several other Republican House and Senate candidates. The media conglomerate says it “makes bipartisan contributions to political candidates and committees in support of the company’s public policy goals. In making contributions to candidates, the TWI PAC considers, among other factors, the candidate’s committee assignments and record of public positions on issues of importance to the company. To provide funding for the TWI PAC, the company periodically solicits voluntary contributions from eligible employees, excluding the company’s journalists.”
Several Hollywood guilds also have political action committees, but they’re contributions are more often made along straight party lines – but not always.
According to the latest FEC filings, the Directors Guild of America’s PAC made more than $250,000 in contributions this election cycle, with the vast majority going to Democrats. It gave $17,200 to the Senate Victory 2018 fund and $7,500 to the Senate 2018 Impact committee to help Democrats win back the Senate. It also gave gave $9,500 to Congressman Jerry Nadler, who stands to be the next chairman of the House Judiciary if the Dems win big on Tuesday, and $2,500 to Nadler’s Victory Fund.
But the DGA also contributed $5,000 to Republican Goodlatte’s campaign committee. The guild also gave $7,000 to Schiff, who could be the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee if the Dems take over, but it also gave $10,000 to McCarthy, who’s expected to be the next Speaker of the House if the Republicans can hold on.
Most of the DGA’s donations, however, went to Democrats, including $5,000 to Gavin Newsom’s campaign for governor of California, $10,000 to Congressman John Lewis, $7,500 to Sen. Tim Kaine, $5,000 to Sen. Klobuchar, $2,500 to Feinstein and $2,000 to Congressman Ted Lieu. According to the DGA, its PAC is nonpartisan and its contributions are given to those who support the interests of the guild and its members.
The WGA West’s PAC made more than $200,000 in contributions this cycle, all going to Democrats. Schiff got $5,000, and so did each of eight incumbent senators: McCaskill Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Maria Cantwell, Jon Tester, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly. The WGA says its PAC “helps to elect federal candidates who support the guild’s public policy priorities. The PAC amplifies the WGAW’s voice in Washington on critical debates affecting working writers. The PAC relies on voluntary contributions from WGAW members.”
The IATSE PAC, meanwhile, contributed nearly $450,000 during the cycle – more than the DGA and WGA political action committees combined. And while the vast majority of its largesse also went to Democrats, there were a few notable exceptions. For instance, it gave $5,000 to Katie Hill, the California Democrat running for Congress, but it also gave $1,000 to her incumbent opponent, Republican Knight.
IATSE also donated $2,500 to Goodlatte, the outgoing Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and the same amount to incumbent Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who’s locked in a tight race with Democrat Scott Wallace.
By and large, however, IATSE favored Dems. It gave $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; $7,500 to Sen. Whitehouse and $5,000 to Jim Crowley, chair of the Democratic House Caucus. IATSE says the mission of its PAC is to “support those politicians who fight for working people and stand behind the policies important to our membership, while fighting politicians and policies that do not benefit our members.”
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