Cablers Are Ponying Up Presidentially

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In the snowy months prior to entering the White House in January 2001, President Bush formed a transition team that included business executives who had given copiously to his campaign or the Republican Party. Among them was Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Charles F. Dolan.

Dolan, who served on the panel with former Enron Corp. CEO Kenneth Lay, had given $262,000 to the GOP in the prior two years while doling out just $3,000 to Democrats. On the transition team, Dolan’s role was to assess the needs of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that regulates his cable company.

DOLIN’ TO BOTH

Four years later, in an indication that money speaks louder than words, Dolan isn’t reciprocating with blind loyalty the honor that Bush bestowed on the veteran cable executive.

Although Dolan gave Bush the maximum $2,000 contribution for his re-election bid, he also gave $2,000 to the John Kerry presidential campaign. Many business people have given to both Bush and Kerry, unlike labor leaders and groups, which have overwhelmingly given just to Kerry. “It’s quite prevalent in the business community. They hedge their bets. They are not giving for ideological reasons,” said Steve Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Dolan is among dozens of cable-industry executives cited by campaign finance watchdogs who’ve kicked in cash to fuel the Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns. But just a few of them have chosen Dolan’s path of giving to both, according to the campaign finance web site Fundrace2004.

Giving to both camps was popular with others at Cablevision. Dolan’s son James, Cablevision’s president, gave $2,000 each to Bush and Kerry, as did Cablevision COO Thomas Rutledge and Rainbow Media CEO Joshua Sapan.

Cablevision representatives said the company had no comment on the matter.

An analysis by Multichannel News found more than 60 cable leaders and industry-related notables have donated about $106,000 combined to the Bush and Kerry campaign treasuries, with Kerry taking in about $4,000 more than Bush.

The analysis did not include donations to political parties and political-action committees, or to new campaign finance vehicles called “527 committees,” named after a section of the Internal Revenue Code. Nor did it examine efforts by cable leaders to fill campaign coffers by soliciting donations from third parties.

Presidential contests demand huge amounts of cash, the overwhelming majority of it used to buy time on radio and television. While some of cable’s biggest names have reached for their checkbooks, the aggregate amount from the industry was minuscule compared to the overall dollars Bush and Kerry have collected as they head into their nominating conventions.

According to press reports and campaign news releases, the Bush campaign has raked in $215.3 million and the Kerry campaign about $180 million. Under new campaign finance laws, individuals may give up to $2,000 each for the primary and general elections, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission said.

Both campaigns have been such successful cash machines — Kerry, for example, raised $34 million in June alone — that each side has given thought to relying solely on private funding, which would mean forgoing $75 million in public financing each for the fall homestretch.

Cable givers came from both the system and programming sides of the business.

Among the MSOs, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and his father, Comcast director Ralph Roberts, each gave Bush $2,000. Comcast chief operating officer Stephen Burke, a Bush family friend and big campaign fundraiser, wrote Bush a check for $2,000.

Comcast has its share of Kerry people. The MSO’s executive vice president and treasurer John Alchin gave Kerry $2,000. Comcast vice president Joe Waz gave Kerry $1,000.

Mark Coblitz, Comcast’s senior vice president of strategic planning, followed the Dolan strategy of giving $2,000 apiece to Bush and Kerry.

Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt and executive vice president Charles Ellis each gave Bush $1,000.

Within the parent company, Time Warner Inc., chairman and CEO Richard Parsons gave Bush $2,000, and entertainment and networks group chairman Jeff Bewkes gave $2,000 to Kerry. Meanwhile, Home Box Office Inc. chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht gave Kerry $2,000.

BUSH DONATERS

Other MSO executives who gave $2,000 to Bush include: Charter Communications Inc. president Carl Vogel; Bresnan Communications president and CEO William Bresnan; Cox Communications Inc. executive vice president Patrick Esser; Cox Enterprises Inc. senior vice president Alexander Netchvolodoff; and Cablevision executive vice president Sheila Mahony.

Although the MSO wing of the industry invested in both Bush and Kerry, the programming side leaned in favor of Kerry, even though Kerry in March voted by proxy for an amendment that called for applying broadcast-indecency rules to expanded basic cable networks. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), was defeated by one vote.

Programming leaders who gave $2,000 to Kerry include: Viacom Inc. chairman Sumner Redstone; Viacom Inc. co-president Tom Freston; Oxygen Media chairman Geraldine Laybourne; MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath; and Court TV chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff. Other programming givers to Kerry, ranging in amounts from $500 to $1,500, include: Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank ($500); Fox Cable Networks executive vice president Lindsay Gardner ($1,000); Playboy Enterprises CEO Christie Hefner ($1,500); USA Networks senior vice president Douglas Holloway ($1,000); BET president and CEO Debra Lee ($1,000).

Bush has a few well-known backers in the cable programming world, including: George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney’s Media Networks Unit ($2,000); Ann Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney’s Media Networks Unit ($2,000); Nickolas Davatzes, A&E Television president and CEO ($2,000); and William Goodwyn, Discovery Communications president of affiliate sales and marketing ($2,000).

NCTA’S CLOSE SPLIT

Employees of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association contributed to Bush and Kerry in roughly equal amounts, with Kerry taking in $6,000 and Bush $4,000.

On the Kerry side, NCTA executive vice president David Krone gave $2,000 and lawyers Diane Burstein and Michael Schooler gave $1,000. On the Bush side, Steven Berry, senior vice president of government affairs, gave $2,000 and vice president of program network policy Jill Lukette donated $1,000.

Other campaign contributors include former MSO executives and Wall Street analysts. Amos Hostetter, co-founder of Continental Cablevision, and his wife Barbara each gave Kerry $2,000. Kerry and the Hostetters are Boston neighbors.

Aryeh Bourkoff, a widely quoted cable analyst at UBS Warburg, must not think a President Kerry would be bad for cable stocks. He gave the candidate $500.

Cash isn’t the only way cable tries to reach politicians.

At this week’s Democratic convention in Boston, Comcast, Time Warner, and Fox News Channel are each hosting parties, either for the delegates or for party leaders. Comcast is co-hosting with Citigroup a bash for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), according to the Center for Public Integrity.

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