Political campaign spending by the cable industry is up
this year, topping $1.6 million in soft money contributions for the 1999-2000 election
cycle, compared to $1.4 million for 1997-1998.
But the total is still well short of the 1995-96
presidential election cycle, when cable companies contributed roughly $3.9 million.
The increase in spending compared to 1998 partly resulted
from AT&T Corp.'s joining the cable ranks and the arrival of another presidential
But some observers believe it is due more to an
across-the-board spending increase, as well as some cable-related bills coming up for vote
on Capitol Hill this year.
AT&T contributed $974,524 during the 1995-1996
presidential election cycle, nearly what it has handed over to both the Democratic and
Republican parties so far this year.
According to the Federal Election Commission, AT&T has
contributed $752,400 in soft money as of Sept. 30.
Add the $201,744 contributed by Tele-Communications Inc.
(now AT&T Broadband & Internet Services) and the total rises to $954,144, almost
as much as AT&T contributed during the entire 1996 presidential campaign.
While AT&T does not normally discuss its giving
patterns, company spokesman Jim McGann said, it generally tries to spread the wealth
equally among the two major political parties. As far as the increased spending this year,
McGann said that is happening at most major corporations.
"Clearly this is a trend among many
corporations," McGann said. "But I don't know if [AT&T's current
contribution level] is going to translate into more contributions down the road."
While AT&T appears to be heading toward a
record-breaking year in terms of its political spending, other cable companies seem to be
holding back at least for now.
Considering that the FEC data is from September and
the presidential election is a little less than one year away companies still have
a lot of time to open their checkbooks. But so far, at least three companies with strong
ties to cable appear to have seriously cut back on soft-money contributions The
Walt Disney Co., News Corp., and Time Warner Inc.
Disney was the fourth-largest soft money contributor in the
1995-1996 presidential campaign. Its $1.4 million in contributions lagged behind only
tobacco giants Philip Morris Cos. and RJR Nabisco Corp. and distiller Joseph E. Seagram
Disney also made no bones about which party it supported in
1996 $1.1 million went to the Democrats, and only $300,000 to the Republicans.
However, so far this year Disney appears to be playing both
sides of the fence. The company has contributed $153,076 in soft money, with $83,056 going
to Democrats and $70,020 going to the GOP.
Disney officials did not return phone calls for comment.
Time Warner also seems to be cutting back, and recently
declared its plan to eliminate soft-money donations altogether.
In 1995-1996, Time Warner gave $726,250 in soft money, with
$401,250 going to the Democratic Party and $325,000 to the Republican Party. As of this
Sept. 30, Time Warner's contributions dipped to $160,000 $80,000 each to
Democrats and Republicans.
News Corp., the newspaper and television empire that also
owns Fox Sports Net and the Fox News and Fox Family channels, was a big contributor to the
1995-1996 presidential campaign, with soft money contributions of $674,700. All but
$20,000 went to the Republican Party.
However, this year News Corp. has only given $25,000 to the
Larry Makinson, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive
Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog organization, said the trend so far this year
is increased political spending.
"There is a lot at stake because Congress and the
presidency are up for grabs," Makinson said.
Hot-button political issues, like the recently passed
Satellite Home Viewer Act, also could have spurred increased funding from affected
industries, Makinson added.
"There is an absolutely unprecedented demand for money
by the candidates and the parties," Makinson said. "A lot is going to have to do
with control of Congress."
For example, Makinson said the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee, which raises money for Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of
Representatives, has set a goal of putting $1 million into each of 40 to 50 races this
"The fundraising quotas are sky-high," he said.
Falcon Communications Inc. director of government relations
Jeremy Bernard agreed.
"The DCCC has raised a great deal of money because
they feel that no matter what happens in the presidential race, they still have a shot at
taking back the House," Bernard said.
Although the 1999-2000 election cycle includes the
Presidential race, Makinson said that most of the money is likely to go towards
Congressional contests, and not necessarily because the donors strongly believe in their
candidate's stance on the issues.
"Very few races at the national level are
competitive," Makinson said. "Some of the Senate races, maybe two or three dozen
House [of Representatives] races, are going to be competitive. These campaign
contributions are not so much to elect people as they are to lobby them. You want a
grateful politician that is going to be in office next year."
But the cable industry is not ignoring the presidential
campaign, and money from the industry appears to be flowing into candidates' coffers
as quickly as ever.
According to the FEC data, Gore has received the greatest
amount of contributions from the TV/Movies/Music sector which includes the cable
industry of all the presidential candidates. As of Sept. 30 Gore has received about
$643,000 from the sector, or 2.6 percent of the $24 million he has accumulated so far.
Running a close second is McCain, who can trace about 1.9
percent, or $181,000, of the $9.3 million he has raised to the TV/Movies/Music sector.
McCain's largest contributor was Viacom Inc., which
has given nearly $48,000 to his campaign so far. AT&T and Time Warner were among
McCain's top 20 individual investors, contributing $16,000 and $13,875 to his
presidential campaign, respectively.
That is not surprising, given that McCain subject of
a widely publicized fundraiser hosted by EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman Charles
Ergen earlier this year chairs the Senate Commerce Commission, and has been a
proponent of cable issues.
One of Gore's other biggest contributors was Viacom,
which put $75,750 into the campaign. Other Gore contributors with a cable connection
include Time Warner ($43,525) and AT&T ($30,050).
The other top candidates to receive money from the group
included Republicans Texas Gov. George Bush ($488,000); conservative activist Gary Bauer
($14,000); publisher Steve Forbes ($10,000); and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah ($2,000);
as well as Democratic challenger and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey