News Companies Popular Investments Among Congressmen


news1a.jpgAs recent political fiascoes involving Rep. Anthony Weiner and ex-Sen. John Edwards have shown, the power of the press carries weight, especially in Washington. Careers of high-rising politicos can be buried or propelled to new heights in a matter of minutes by the media.

But many members of Congress actually have a vested interest -- beyond just their political careers -- in the performance of the same organizations that are supposed to be their watchdogs, a Center for Responsive Politics investigation indicates.

About 60 U.S. senators and representatives, or their spouses, hold assets in at least 19 different news organizations or media conglomerates, according to the Center's analysis of federal personal financial disclosure documents. 

At least seven congressmen have media investments worth a minimum of $100,000, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) leads the pack with his family's multi-million-dollar holdings in multiple media companies, including a significant investment in News Corp., which owns Fox News.

The latest casualty of a sex scandal, Weiner (D-N.Y.), who has dominated the news cycle ever since he tweeted a picture of his crotch three weeks ago, is one of the congressmen to own stock in a news company. 

anthony-weiner.jpgWeiner owns New York Times' assets valued between $1,001 and $15,000, according to his 2009 personal financial disclosure report, the most recent available. (Members are only required to list the value of their assets in broad ranges.) The Times has been reporting on the congressman's scandal with multiple stories and blog posts each day.

Many members of Congress and editorial boards of news organizations have also asked Weiner to step down.

And although the Times has not shown its support for Weiner in any way, congressmen's interest in media investments should be questioned, said Kevin Smith, chairman of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists.

nyt.jpg"If congressmen are investing in the New York Times, does that filter into the newsroom?," Smith told OpenSecrets Blog. "What happens is that it does raise red flags."

Edwards, a former senator and presidential candidate who was recently indicted on six counts of campaign finance violations, may also still have holdings in media companies.

Edwards has previously reported investments in Comcast and Viacom, two of the biggest media conglomerates, according to his 2004 disclosure report from his time as a U.S. senator. He also disclosed holdings in GateHouse Media, which owns nearly 500 publications nationwide, when he announced his presidential bid during the 2008 election cycle.

Gannett Co., Walt Disney (which owns ABC), News Corp., CBS, Washington Post, Thomas Reuters and E.W. Scripps Co. are some of the other news organizations in which members of Congress invest.

Robin Pence, spokeswoman for Gannett, which owns 82 newspapers (including USA Today) and 23 television stations, told OpenSecrets Blog in an email that the company has never looked into whether any members of Congress hold the company's stock.

"But even if they did, it would have no impact on our news coverage," Pence said.

Almost an equal number of Democrats and Republicans either directly or through their spouses hold investments in media organizations.

They include Kerry, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rick Berg (R-N.D.) and James Renacci (R-Ohio).

Six of the total 60 members of Congress with such stock holdings belong to the Lone Star state. Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Kenny Marchant (R-Texas),  Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), William Flores (R-Texas) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) each have thousands invested in media companies.

ogco_newscorp_0707.jpgSmith told OpenSecrets Blog that such investments could be problematic depending on the congressmen's motives --  are they politically strategic or financially strategic decisions?
And with such a large number of politicians having holdings in the media, questions behind their motives will undoubtedly be raised.

"Either they are all going to the same investment strategist, or they have some sort of game plan," Smith said.

OpenSecrets Blog contacted the offices of more than a dozen politicians who reported owning stock in media companies. Many did not return messages, and some stated that they were not allowed to comment on their congressmen's personal investments.

kerry.jpgWhitney Smith, spokeswoman for Kerry, who reported investments in News Corp., Comcast, Walt Disney and E.W. Scripps, told OpenSecrets Blog in an email that the senator himself did not personally purchase media stocks.

"All of his holdings are in inherited family trusts that he has no investing control over whatsoever, nor is Senator Kerry a beneficiary of any of his wife's trusts," Whitney Smith said.

For the purposes of this analysis, investments in certain large conglomerates, such as General Electric, which partially own certain media organizations, were not included. The research is also based on congressmen's filings from 2009, meaning that some of them may no longer own the stock in question. 

Members of Congress are scheduled to report their 2010 personal finances today, although many members typically file for extensions, meaning their information won't be available for weeks or months.

Below is a list of congressional members' media investments, according to the Center's analysis of their most recent personal financial disclosures:


Name Asset Min Max
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) Tribco LLC $250,001 $500,000
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Ark.) Westwood One $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) Viacom Inc. $9,483 $9,483
Comcast Corp. $4,290 $4,290
CBS Corp. $2,599 $2,599
Walt Disney Co. $2,580 $2,580
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) Walt Disney Co. $4,837 $4,837
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) Centennial Broadcasting $0 $1,000
Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Citadel Broadcasting $1 $1,000
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) Walt Disney Co. $25,993 $25,993
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) CBS Corp. $15,001 $50,000
Walt Disney Co. $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) News Corp. $0 $1,000
Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) Woodford Sun $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Stephen Ira Cohen (D-Tenn.) Walt Disney Co. $15,001 $50,000
Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) Walt Disney Co. $2,002 $30,000
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) CBS Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) Viacom Inc $101,002 $265,000
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) Walt Disney Co. $2,002 $30,000
Rep. William Flores (R-Texas) Comcast Corp. $37,692 $37,692
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Gannett Co. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del) News Corp. $0 $2,628
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) Comcast Corp. $1,750,003 $2,500,001
News Corp. $600,002 $1,250,000
EW Scripps Co. $0 $1,000
Walt Disney Co. $0 $2,000
Sen. Jon L. Kyl (R-Ariz) Viacom Inc $5,173 $5,173
Comcast Corp. $4,930 $4,930
Walt Disney Co. $2,741 $2,741
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) Gannett Co. $155,405 $155,405
CBS Corp. $6,744 $6,744
Comcast Corp. $5,916 $5,916
Walt Disney Co. $5,031 $5,031
Viacom Inc $3,716 $3,716
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) Thomson Reuters $252 $252
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) Comcast Corp. $81,004 $215,000
News Corp. $32,004 $130,000
Walt Disney Co. $32,004 $130,000
CBS Corp. $30,002 $100,000
British Sky Broadcasting $2,002 $30,000
ITV Plc $2,002 $30,000
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wa.) Comcast Corp. $7,587 $7,587
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) Viacom Inc $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr (D-N.J.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Comcast Corp. $100,001 $250,000
Morningstar Inc. $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) New York Times $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) Washington Post $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) Gannett Co. $5,940 $5,940
Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio) Viacom Inc $10,565 $10,565
Comcast Corp. $9,321 $9,321
Walt Disney Co. $3,003 $45,000
Citadel Broadcasting $1 $1,000
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) Comcast Corp. $1,693 $1,693
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Citadel Broadcasting $1 $1,000
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) Walt Disney Co. $15,001 $50,000
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) Walt Disney Co. $15,001 $50,000
Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Citadel Broadcasting $1 $1,000
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) Viacom Inc. $1 $1,000
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) CBS Corp. $0 $1,000
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) Walt Disney Co. $50,001 $100,000
Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
News Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) Comcast Corp. $1,001 $15,000
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) Columbia Gorge Broadcasters $100,001 $250,000
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) Walt Disney Co. $16,002 $65,000
Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-N.Y.) New York Times $1,001 $15,000
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) Walt Disney Co. $30,002 $100,000
Comcast Corp. $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) Walt Disney Co. $1,001 $15,000

Center for Responsive Politics senior researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.

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