In a September 2000 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Charles Lewis, the executive director of the Center for Public Integrity and a former producer for 60 Minutes, said the media industry "is widely regarded as perhaps the most powerful special interest today in Washington." Media companies win influence in D.C. "the old-fashioned way," Lewis wrote-by lobbying vigorously and by giving large donations to political campaigns. Fast-forward four years, and not much has changed. But in an election year that could also see the formation of another giant media concern with control over an unprecedented amount of content and the pipes through which that content is distributed, more people may be watching. And at a time when issues crucial to the profitability and growth of media and cable companies are pending at the Federal Communications Commission, where political candidates stand on issues such as digital must-carry, the regulation of VoIP telephony and media ownership caps will, in part, determine the support they receive. Among big media and cable companies, Comcast, whose $50 billion unsolicited bid for Disney last month is continuing to generate headlines, stands behind only Time Warner and Viacom in political donations in the 2004 election cycle, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Through early November, Comcast had donated $294,488, 45% of which went to Democrats. More than half of Comcast’s total donations came from Comcast’s Political Action Committee, a fund to which the company’s top executives have contributed tens of thousands of dollars. Although well below the $489,589 donated by Time Warner (72% of which went to Democrats) and the $404,700 donated by Viacom (67% of which went to Democrats), Comcast’s total far outstripped the $197,824 donated by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (40% of which went to Democrats) and the $88,450 donated by Cablevision (56% of which went to Democrats). Most large companies donate to both sides. Consider News Corp., whose chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch, is widely known to hold conservative political views. Despite the combined $10,000-plus he donated to the Republican National Committee and to Sen. John McCain in the 2002 election cycle and in the current election cycle, he also donated $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry in 2001. News Corp. as a whole has donated $128,375 in the current cycle, 46% to Democrats. Media companies have historically been thought of as leaning toward the Democratic party, and, indeed, donations by some media executives and companies reflect this tendency. Leo Hindery’s YES Network, for example, has donated $88,250 through early November, all of it from individuals, and 100% of it to Democrats. (That’s down significantly from the $895,300 YES Network donated in the 2002 election cycle, all of which went to Democrats.) As the industry continues its drive to consolidation, access and influence will be key. And while it’s difficult to draw a direct correlation between a campaign contribution and a vote, if money doesn’t buy influence-or, at least, better access-why give it?

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