Fox News and MSNBC at odds over political donations by hosts

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

Today, MSNBC suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely for violating NBC News' policy and standards. As Politico first noted, Olbermann donated $2,400 apiece to three Democrats and "NBC has a rule against employees contributing to political campaigns."

While NBC News has a policy prohibiting employees from contributing to political campaigns, its cable news competitor Fox News apparently does not. Indeed, Fox News hosts such as Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Mike Huckabee have donated to political campaigns and organizations, and a Fox News executive previously said he would not prohibit the practice.

During the 2009-2010 election cycle, more than 30 Fox Newsers have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or organizations in more than 600 instances.

Neil Cavuto

In 2004, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted that Neil "Cavuto, the network's managing editor for business, gave $1,000 to a fundraising dinner for President Bush in 2002." (The joint fundraising committee distributed the contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee.) At the time, Fox News vice president John Moody said of Cavuto's donation: "I wish he hadn't ... I hope our people will follow the advice I've given to them voluntarily. The potential perception is that they favor one candidate over the other." Kurtz added that Moody "said he wouldn't ban the practice" and "responded by circulating a policy Friday that discourages such contributions."

Cavuto, of course, regularly covered the Bush administration as host of his own Fox News show and as "managing editor of business news."

Sean Hannity

More recently, primetime host Sean Hannity donated $5,000 to the political action committee of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).'s Justin Elliott wrote today that Hannity did not disclose his donation to Bachmann, despite Fox News senior vice president Bill Shine's reported statement that he would:

Sean Hannity of Fox gave $5,000 to Rep. Michele Bachmann's PAC over the summer, as Salon reported at the time. In response to that reveleation, Fox told a Minnesota newspaper:

Fox News programming head Bill Shine said there's no company policy against talk show personalities giving to candidates, but said Hannity would disclose the donation when Bachmann appears.

"It always good to remember that he's not a journalist, he's a conservative TV host," Shine said. "If he wants to donate to a candidate, he certainly can."

Now, as it turns out, Hannity had Bachmann on after the donation and did not disclose it. Fox's policy, if they followed it, actually makes a lot of sense here. Hannity's entire show is about promoting conservatives candidates and ideas. Olbermann's show is about promoting progressives. Olbermann, however, did not disclose his $2,400 donation to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on the same day he interviewed him. That seems more problematic than the donation itself.

Hannity also donated $4,800 to the unsuccessful congressional campaign of childhood friend John Gomez. As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, Hannity reportedly promised New York Republican and Conservative Party leaders he would "do all he could" to promote Gomez, help him fundraise and bring in headliners for events if they gave Gomez their party nods. Hannity made good on his promise by reportedly bringing in fundraisers for Gomez and using his Fox News program as a promotional tool for Gomez.

As Newsday's reporting suggested, had Sean Hannity not had the media platform he has today, political neophyte Gomez might have had a tougher time winning his party's nomination.

Hannity has also endorsed and held fundraisers for other Republican candidates and organizations.

Fox News also reportedly took no "serious disciplinary measures" after they yanked Hannity from trying to tape his show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event which charged admission and had "all proceeds" benefiting the organization.

Mike Huckabee

Weekend host Mike Huckabee has personally donated money to political campaigns. Specifically, in 2010, he donated to the campaigns of Doug Matayo for Congress (AR), Beth Anne Rankin for Congress (AR), and Daniel Webster for Congress (FL). Huckabee also has a political action committee, Huck PAC, which donates money to campaigns, and regularly makes endorsements.

In 2009, Huckabee had used his Fox News program to promote the website "," which redirects visitors to a web page soliciting donations for Huckabee's political action committee. Howard Kurtz reported in 2009 of Huckabee: "His Web site urges followers to 'Vote No Against Senate Health Care Bill' and invites fans to join him and his wife, Janet (for just $3,999!), on a tour of Israel next month. Fox executives told Huckabee to stop plugging the Web site on the air after learning that it linked to his political action committee, which the network deemed a conflict of interest." Still, on his Fox News show in 2010, Huckabee regularly promotes his personal website, - an apparent violation of Fox News' order, since his personal site links to Huck PAC.

Palin, North, Napolitano, KT McFarland, and News Corp.

Other Fox News personalities with shows to their names have contributed to or fundraised for Republicans. Sarah Palin, host of Real American Stories -- which airs infrequently -- regularly endorses and gives money to Republicans through her Sarah PAC. War Stories host Oliver North has given money and done fundraisers for Republicans. Andrew Napolitano, host of Fox Business' Freedom Watch, has done a fundraiser for Rep. Ron Paul, who is a frequent guest on his program. And KT McFarland, host of's DEFCON 3, held a fundraiser for the Santa Fe County Republican Party (NM).

In August, Joe Strupp reported that journalism ethics experts and news veterans criticized News Corp. for its $1 million contribution - later $1.25 million -- to the Republican Governors Association. News Corp also drew criticism for its $1 million donation to the GOP-linked U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Other ethics problems

The Fox News ethics problems don't stop with political contributions and fundraisers.

Fox News contributor Dick Morris - one of the channel's most frequent on-air analysts - has been paid at least $168,228 by Republican candidates and organizations during this election cycle. In several instances, Morris has failed to disclose his payments while cheerleading for those causes:

  • Morris touted and solicited donations for the Republican-aligned group Americans for New Leadership weeks after they began paying him thousands of dollars. During his appearances, Morris did not disclose that he was receiving money from the group. In 2008, Morris similarly promoted a conservative group on-air without noting he received payments from them.
  • The Pennsylvania Republican Party paid Morris $10,000 for speaking at its 2010 Lincoln Day Dinner. Morris frequently discussed Pennsylvania politics afterwards.
  • Morris was paid by Brad Zaun for Congress (IA). On the September 22 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly introduced Morris by stating he is in Iowa "where is he advising a Republican candidate." Morris discussed Zaun, but did not mention that he received any payment.

Morris, by the way, regularly fundraises on-air for Republicans.

Pollsters and Fox News contributors Doug Schoen and Frank Luntz have both defended and praised the work of the Chamber of Commerce without disclosing that the chamber is their client.

And these examples are just some of the numerous ethics problems Fox News has had.

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