The directors of media conglomerate News Corp., the owner of Fox News Channel, have quietly put in place a policy to disclose corporate political donations on the company's website.
The decision was made April 12, according to a notice posted without fanfare by the company. A News Corp. spokeswoman declined telephone and email requests by The Associated Press to discuss the new policy.
Australian-born media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who controls the company, drew attention for two $1 million contributions he made during last year's elections: one to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the other to the Republican Governors Association, which raised concerns among shareholders. Murdoch told the Washington-based Politico website that the RGA donation was prompted by his friendship with then-Ohio governor candidate John Kasich.
The policy calls for the company _ which also owns 20th Century Fox movie studio and The Wall Street Journal _ to disclose political contributions made between January and June on July 15. Annual postings would follow each January.
Kasich, a former Republican congressman, spent several years as a commentator and occasional guest host on Fox. Since winning the governor's race in November, he has remained a frequent guest on the network.
Kasich won the election after an expensive campaign against incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. According to Ohio campaign finance reports, the RGA spent at least $5 million in the state from May and October.
RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the association had no opinion about News Corp.'s decision. He said the RGA already discloses all its donors in regular filings to the Internal Revenue Service, at least every January and June and sometimes more often.
"Our donors had already been disclosed and obviously it is public record," he said.
Schrimpf said the RGA is prohibited from steering an individual's contribution to any particular state or gubernatorial candidate, and did not do so in the case of Murdoch's donation.
"People give knowing that we will spend it where we deem appropriate and where it can make a difference," Schrimpf said. "Looking at 50 different states and state campaign finance laws, we piece together a donation strategy that makes the best use of our resources."
Among News Corp. shareholders that raised concerns about the RGA and chamber donations was the Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, which supports social and economic justice causes.
Laura Campos, director of shareholder activities, said the foundation had two main concerns.
"Our concern was not only that shareholders found out not through the standard decision-making process but through media reports, but more importantly that this was shareholder money that was being used _ but it was not being used for a clear rationale for furthering shareholder value," she said.
The Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission during the campaign alleging Fox provided Kasich with an illegal in-kind contribution when they displayed his website address during one of his appearances on "The O'Reilly Factor."
After Murdoch's statement to Politico, the DGA withdrew and updated its complaint to suggest his donation had been improperly set aside for Kasich.
The commission found no violation of campaign finance laws in December.
The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, a frequent critic of Fox, on Friday called News Corp.'s new disclosure policy a tacit admission that "they were on shaky ground" with the 2010 contributions.
"Unfortunately, the new policy has the style but not the substance of transparency," executive vice president Ari Rabin-Havt said in an email. "Filing contribution information in the next calendar year in no way meets standards of disclosure. The public deserves to be informed about News Corp.'s financial backing of candidates before an election, so that they can assess for themselves the bias of the coverage they see on Fox News."
News Corp.: http://www.newscorp.com