Boston Globe Column Hides More Than $750K In Conflicts Of Interest

Boston Globe Column Hides More Than $750K In Conflicts Of Interest

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

The Boston Globe continues to publish columns by former Republican Sen. John E. Sununu that carry massive conflicts of interest. The Globe today allowed Sununu to advocate against "unnecessary regulation" of the Internet and coal power plants without noting his financial ties to those industries.

Sununu wrote in his August 17 column that "Obama's bureaucrats reach ever deeper into the economy, pursuing expensive and unnecessary regulation of the internet." Sununu and the Globe did not disclose that he is the highly-paid honorary co-chair of Broadband for America, an organization whose members have included major broadband providers and has been heavily funded by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Broadband for America's most recent IRS 990 form states that the group paid Sununu $480,067 for "lead consulting" during parts of 2013 and 2014.

Sununu also serves on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable (TWC), which fights Internet regulation. TWC wrote in its 2014 annual report that "'Net neutrality' regulation or legislation could limit TWC's ability to operate its business profitably and to manage its broadband facilities efficiently and could result in increased taxes and fees imposed on TWC." It added that "TWC's business is subject to extensive governmental regulation, which could adversely affect its operations." TWC is merging with Charter Communications, pending regulatory approval.

TWC gave Sununu approximately $272,000 in compensation in 2014, according to company documents.

In his column, Sununu also criticized the Obama administration for environmental regulations, writing that at the "EPA as elsewhere, arrogant leadership and incompetent bureaucracy are a dangerous combination. Today, America's coal plants have never been cleaner, our nuclear plants have never been safer, and the evolution of fracking (a 40-year-old technology) has driven down energy costs to their lowest levels in decades."

Akin Gump, the largest Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, lists Sununu as an "Adjunct Senior Policy Advisor" who "advises clients on a wide range of public policy, strategic and regulatory issues" including "policy and regulation." Akin Gump's policy and regulation page lists subpractices such as "Energy Regulation, Markets and Enforcement," "Environment and Natural Resources," and "Environmental Permitting and Approvals."

Akin Gump's policy and regulation page states that their clients include the coal industry. They write elsewhere in the "environmental litigation" section of their site that "Akin Gump's environmental lawyers remain at the forefront of the defense of coal-fired power plants sued as part of EPA's Utility Enforcement Initiative."

Media Matters previously noted that Sununu has written about issues related to Akin Gump's business practices without disclosing his role in the firm. The Boston Globe told Media Matters in 2012 that Sununu's role with Akin Gump was "very limited" and "We looked into whether he should make some sort of blanket disclosure, but it doesn't seem warranted by the small amount of work he does for the firm." 

UPDATE: Reached by phone by Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg said she's on vacation and hasn't "read this column closely." She said the Globe plans to include online biographical sketches that "should help readers learn more about who the freelance contributors are and opt for more disclosure. They will be able to link to the italicized tagline at the bottom. It's been in the works for some time. Our contract with freelancers requires that they disclose conflicts of interest. We rely on them to push it out. We're going to disclose board memberships and consulting gigs and other paid work as well as books they've written and things like that." She said that "on this particular column, we'll link to the bio sketch when it's up."

Asked how the Globe would address the print edition of columns -- Sununu's column ran in the print edition, according to the Nexis database -- Clegg said she'll "take a look at it" and "we do require that [disclosure] when we think it's warranted."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Ethics, Net Neutrality
Network/Outlet
Boston Globe
Person
John E. Sununu
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