Ethics | Media Matters for America

Ethics

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  • The conflicts of interest and corporate interests lurking behind op-eds in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Media Matters has documented this year how op-ed pieces that have appeared in newspapers and online publications have frequently failed to inform readers about their authors’ financial conflicts of interest; and when corporate-backed entities have deceived editors and readers with cut-and-paste jobs supposedly by different writers.

    Here are seven examples from this year:  

    GOP leadership touted pro-tax plan op-eds that were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs

    Procter & Gamble placed nearly identical pro-tax cut op-eds by supposedly different authors

    Media outlets published anti-net neutrality op-eds from telecom-backed groups without disclosing the groups’ financial connections

    Outlets across the country ran pro-pipeline op-eds without disclosing the writer’s financial ties to the pipeline industry

    The Wash. Post continued to employ a lobbyist as a writer; Media Matters identified over a dozen times they didn't disclose his conflicts of interest

    Newt Gingrich used his Fox position to push for-profit colleges without disclosing his conflict of interest

    Former Sen. George Allen regularly appeared in the media to defend manufacturers on taxes and regulations without disclosure that he works for them

    GOP leadership touted pro-tax plan op-eds that were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs

    Several newspapers published op-eds by state directors for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) that pushed for the Republicans’ wildly unpopular tax plan. But those opinion pieces were virtually identical despite supposedly being written by different authors. Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of a November 17 op-ed by Kansas state director Dan Murray and another op-ed by its West Virginia state director Gil White from November 26:


    The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Finance and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office both touted NFIB pieces, implying they represented a “drumbeat” of support for the bill by “real Americans.”

    Mother Jones has written that NFIB is a "front group" that's been "leading the fight against taxing the rich." NFIB has also received money from organizations backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

    Editors told Media Matters that the lobbying group didn’t inform them they were using the same language elsewhere and had they known they wouldn’t have run the pieces.

    Procter & Gamble placed nearly identical pro-tax cut op-eds by supposedly different authors


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Procter & Gamble placed virtually identical op-eds arguing for corporate tax cuts, supposedly written by different manufacturing plant managers, in newspapers across the country. Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of two different op-eds placed in separate newspapers on November 24 and December 10 respectively (the News & Record later added an editor's note to the top of the piece online):

    The White House and Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) both promoted P&G op-eds. In comments to Media Matters, some of the editors of newspapers that ran the virtually identical op-eds criticized the company for their tactics, with one saying the company would be blacklisted from the paper.

    Media outlets published anti-net neutrality op-eds from telecom-backed groups without disclosing the groups’ financial connections


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality rules, which ensure that everyone has open and fair access to the internet. The nonprofit group Free Press, which is challenging the vote in court, criticized the FCC for abdicating its “authority over internet service providers and clearing the way for blocking, throttling and discrimination by the nation’s largest phone and cable companies.”

    Media Matters documented this year that media outlets routinely provided media space to anti-net neutrality groups without disclosing that they’ve received funding from the telecommunications industry, which stands to financially benefit from repealing the pro-consumer rules.

    Outlets across the country ran pro-pipeline op-eds without disclosing the writer’s financial ties to the pipeline industry

    Numerous publications ran pro-pipeline op-eds from retired Gen. James “Spider” Marks without disclosing his financial ties to a security contractor that provides security for the pipeline industry.

    Marks is the advisory board chair for the international security firm TigerSwan. He’s also done work for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), whose members include oil and gas companies.

    He wrote opinion pieces in the Daily Caller and Washington Examiner and in several publications based in areas where there is significant debate about pipeline construction, including the Omaha World-Herald, PennLive, and the Daily Advertiser (of Lafayette, LA). After Media Matters contacted the publications, the Omaha World-Herald, PennLive, and Washington Examiner added disclosures noting Marks’ connection to TigerSwan. PennLive’s opinion editor later stated that Marks was banned from the publication because he misled them and if he had disclosed his connection to TigerSwan, the piece wouldn’t have run.

    The Wash. Post continued to employ a lobbyist as a writer; Media Matters identified at least 12 times they didn't disclose his conflicts of interest

    Megalobbyist Ed Rogers repeatedly used his position as a Washington Post opinion writer to push his clients’ interests.

    Rogers heads the BGR Group, one of the country’s largest lobbying firms with clients that include the government of Saudi Arabia and major corporations. The Post uses him as a regular contributor to its PostPartisan blog and syndicates his work to publications across the country despite the numerous conflicts of interest his lobbying gig presents. Rogers’ corporate biography even touts his Post affiliation to potential clients, stating: “Since 2011, Ed has been an opinion writer for the Washington Post, where he writes about politics and the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C., from a Republican point of view.”

    Media Matters this year identified over a dozen instances in which the Post failed to inform readers that Rogers was pushing the interests of his lobbying clients. The conflict-of-interest areas range from Saudi Arabia to the economy and environmental issues.

    Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters that the Post wasn’t “initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations” but defended the Post and Rogers, and disputed “some” of Media Matters’ examples.

    Newt Gingrich used his Fox position to push for-profit colleges without disclosing his conflict of interest

    Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich wrote op-eds for FoxNews.com in which he pushed for-profit college talking points without any disclosure that he has worked as a consultant for that industry’s main lobbying organization, Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU).

    Under President Trump’s administration, as Politico reported, “for-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.” Gingrich has been a part of that effort and has used his media platform to advocate rolling back protections for students.

    Gingrich, who has a long history of ethical problems as both a politician and pundit, wrote FoxNews.com op-eds in December 2016 and again in March of this year that didn’t disclose his financial connections to the industry. Media Matters sent requests for comment to Fox News about the lack of disclosures. Fox did not respond but subsequently added editor’s notes about Gingrich’s conflict of interest.

    Former Sen. George Allen regularly appeared in the media to defend manufacturers on taxes and regulations without disclosure that he works for them

    Former Sen. and Gov. George Allen (R-VA) has repeatedly written op-eds that defend the manufacturing industry on issues ranging from the environment to taxes without the publications disclosing that he works for the National Association of Manufacturers. The group, which describes itself as “the largest manufacturing association in the United States,” frequently works to oppose regulations against the industry and has worked to pass the GOP’s wildly unpopular tax bill.

    Allen wrote op-eds in 2016 and 2017 in publications such as The Hill, Daily Caller, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Washington Times in which he pushed manufacturing industry talking points against government regulations without any disclosure.

  • Former Sen. George Allen regularly appears in the media to defend manufacturers on taxes and regulations without disclosure that he works for them

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Former Sen. George Allen (R-VA) regularly appears in the media to push the interests of the manufacturing industry on issues ranging from the environment to taxes. What’s frequently left unsaid is that the Republican works for a leading manufacturing trade association.

    Allen is a former Republican Senator and governor who now heads George Allen Strategies LLC, which works for clients “on a range of issues including energy, technology, domestic, and international business development.”

    He most recently penned a December 12 Washington Times op-ed claiming that American manufacturers are facing “a formidable new threat: a cabal of activists, cunning lawyers, ambitious politicians and a network of well-heeled benefactors,” which includes philanthropist (and former Media Matters donor) George Soros and environmental activist and philanthropist Tom Steyer.

    Allen also wrote a May 24 Washington Times op-ed in which he encouraged lawmakers to reduce the corporate tax rate. In the piece, he cited a “recent National Association of Manufacturers study [which] indicated that smaller-sized manufacturers (under 50 employees) pay $34,671 per employee each year to comply with regulations. The regulatory burden, coupled with the high rates of our outdated tax code, are not the recipe for unlocking positive entrepreneurial growth in Virginia or anywhere in the United States.”

    Neither of those pieces disclosed that Allen works for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). NAM is a trade association that had revenues of roughly $60 million in 2015, according to its IRS 990 form. The group, which describes itself as “the largest manufacturing association in the United States,” frequently works to oppose regulations against the industry and is now working to pass the GOP’s wildly unpopular tax bill. It is headed by Jay Timmons, a veteran Republican operative who worked as Allen’s chief of staff when he was in office.

    In October 2013, the group appointed Allen as the co-chair of its “Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative.” He has done events this year in which business groups have identified him as working for NAM. His corporate biography states that he still works for NAM and he said in a June 2017 interview that he’s “working with the National Association of Manufacturers on their competitiveness initiative.”

    NAM’s Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, which is part of NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action, tweeted out Allen’s op-ed twice on December 13. Allen’s piece closely resembles the stated purpose of the NAM project, which claims to “set the record straight and highlight the concerted, coordinated campaign being waged by trial lawyers, public officials, deep-pocketed foundations and other activists who have sought to undermine and weaken manufacturers in the United States.”

    The Washington Times, George Allen Strategies, and NAM did not respond to requests for comment.

    Allen has written other op-eds about the government's involvement with the manufacturing industry in which his ties to NAM were not disclosed.

    • He wrote a September 2016 piece for The Hill headlined “Support US manufacturing jobs.” The piece urged Congress "to reform our business tax code to make U.S. manufacturers more competitive internationally."
    • He wrote a July 2017 Daily Caller piece headlined “For American Jobs And Competitiveness, We Need A Better QB At The Ex-Im Bank.” The Caller piece cited the National Association of Manufacturers but still did not disclose his ties. NAM tweeted out the piece from its account.
    • He wrote a July 2017 Richmond Times-Dispatch piece in which he pushed for corporate tax cuts and wrote: “According to analysis by the National Association of Manufacturers, a tax reform package that includes these important elements would create 6.5 million jobs in the USA over the next 10 years.”

    He has also appeared on television and mentioned the manufacturing industry without noting his ties. For instance, during the June 11 edition of CNN’s New Day Sunday, Allen claimed that President Donald Trump “has done a great job on a lot of regulatory reform issues” and “I think that you see a lot of optimism, for example, amongst manufacturers that this president is going to deliver. Now, the members of Congress need to act too.” He also appeared on Fox Business in March where he mentioned NAM when discussing taxes but didn’t say he worked for the organization; NAM subsequently promoted his appearance and posted video of it. 

    By contrast, a November 22 op-ed for the Washington Examiner disclosed that Allen works for NAM.

  • GOP leadership touted pro-tax plan op-eds that were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs

    Lobbying group NFIB placed virtually identical op-eds about taxes from different authors in newspapers

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    In the midst of the congressional debate over its wildly unpopular tax plan, Republican leaders attempted to create the impression of a “drumbeat” of support by touting opinion pieces from “real Americans” and “state leaders.”

    “The drumbeat for tax reform did not waver over the long Thanksgiving weekend,” proclaimed a press release about “state leaders” from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, which included that “West Virginia’s state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Gil White, doubled down on the benefits to small businesses in the state” in an op-ed. 

    “Across the country, real Americans recognize what they stand to benefit,” read a press release from the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which cited op-eds from National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) West Virginia director Gil White and Dan Lloyd, the plant manager for Procter & Gamble's Green Bay, WI, manufacturing facility.

    But those op-eds were deceptive cut-and-paste jobs that appeared virtually word-for-word in other publications by different authors and were part of a pro-corporate tax cut media campaign by a deep-pocketed business lobbying group and one of the largest corporations in the country.

    NFIB placed four op-eds in newspapers that were virtually identical but were supposedly written by four different authors. Editors told Media Matters that the lobbying group didn’t inform them they were using the same language elsewhere and had they known they wouldn’t have run the pieces.

    Media Matters recently wrote about similar media efforts by Procter & Gamble to gain public support for the Republicans’ unpopular efforts on taxes. That included placing plant manager Dan Lloyd’s op-ed in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI) and subsequently four other op-eds under different names with virtually the same language.

    Editors also criticized P&G’s tactics, with two explicitly saying they would not have run the pieces had they known it was a cut-and-paste effort. The Press-Gazette later added an editor’s note stating “Procter & Gamble indicated in an email to the Press-Gazette that this op-ed was written by the Green Bay plant manager. A review found it had not been previously published. We have since learned that almost identical op-eds by different plant managers were published elsewhere.”

    The National Federation of Independent Business, which describes itself as “America’s leading small business association," has heavily supported Republican candidates and causes over the years. Mother Jones has written that NFIB is a "front group" that's been "leading the fight against taxing the rich." The group, whose IRS recent IRS 990 forms show annual revenues over $100 million, has received money from organizations backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. The group has spent over three million dollars this year on lobbying and is now backing the Republicans’ efforts on taxes, which include large cuts to the corporate tax rate.

    Part of the NFIB’s efforts to pass the GOP tax plan has included attempts to create the appearance of a groundswell of local support through opinion pieces by various NFIB leaders in local newspapers. While those op-eds have different authors, they are all virtually the same except for a sentence mentioning the U.S. senators who represent the paper’s readers. (Thanks to reader Waner, who previously wrote a post noting the similarities and notified Media Matters through our tip line.

    The op-eds include:

    • A November 17 op-ed by NFIB Kansas state director Dan Murray in the Topeka Capital-Journal (KS).
    • A November 23 op-ed by NFIB Louisiana state director Dawn Starns in the Shreveport Times (LA).
    • A November 26 op-ed by NFIB West Virginia state director Gil White in The Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV).
    • A December 2 op-ed by NFIB Florida executive director Bill Herrle in The Palm Beach Post (FL).

    Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of the November 17 op-ed by Dan Murray and the Gil White op-ed from November 26 that was promoted by GOP leaders:

    NFIB did not respond to requests for comment.

    Editors at the papers which published the NFIB op-eds criticized the organization for its tactics and said that had they known the opinion pieces were cut-and-paste jobs their outlets wouldn’t have run the pieces.

    Jeff Gauger, executive editor at the Shreveport Times, said: “We did not know it was an astroturf letter. If we’d known, we would not have published it. If NFIB reps send more letters, we’ll quiz them hard before agreeing to publish their letters."

    Matt Johnson, editorial page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal, said: “The article in question was published in The Topeka Capital-Journal before it ran in any of the other outlets you mentioned. We were not aware it would be published anywhere else. In fact, NFIB senior media manager Todd Pack assured me that the organization hadn't sent the piece to any other newspapers when he submitted it.” He added that they wouldn't have published the piece had they been made aware of that.

    Mike Myer, executive editor at The Intelligencer, said that they "were not aware the same language was used by other authors. Had we known, we would have requested a change or, at the very least, noted similar or the same language was used elsewhere by other authors.”

    The Palm Beach Post did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Fox Business hides Newt Gingrich’s paid work for anti-CFPB group

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Fox Business allowed Newt Gingrich to attack the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) without disclosing that he’s been paid by a group trying to kill the government agency.

    During a November 28 appearance on Mornings with Maria, Gingrich discussed the ongoing leadership conflict at the agency and complained that the CFPB has been “a playground for [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren [D-MA] and her left-wing anti-capitalist, anti-free enterprise friends. It was a very abusive agency, it's an agency which did enormous damage.”

    The business network did not disclose that the Fox News contributor has worked as a paid adviser for the US Consumer Coalition, a secretive group that is attempting to dismantle the CFPB. He’s also worked as a paid adviser to Wise Public Affairs, a public relations firm whose clients include the US Consumer Coalition. Gingrich acknowledged his ties to both groups during a December 2015 congressional hearing. He co-authored an October 2016 Medium post attacking the CFPB with Brian Wise, who heads the Consumer Coalition and Wise Public Affairs. Both groups did not return requests for clarification about their current financial relationship with Gingrich.

    Gingrich previously hid his anti-CFPB financial connections when he wrote a July 2015 Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking the CFPB and promoting the US Consumer Coalition. The op-ed did not disclose any of his financial ties, simply identifying Gingrich as a former House speaker. Following criticism by Media Matters and The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, the Journal issued an "amplification" that Gingrich is "a paid adviser to Wise Public Affairs, whose clients include the U.S. Consumer Coalition, which opposes some policies of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."

    Fox News and Fox Business have a long history of failing to disclose the conflicts of interest of their guests and on-air personalities, including Gingrich. Fox News’ Dana Perino recently failed to disclose that anti-CFPB guest Shannen Coffin has “represented clients affected by and opposed to CFPB regulation,” as noted in his recent Weekly Standard column. Perino didn't note the connection despite quoting from that column during the segment. 

    UPDATE: Following the publication of this piece, FoxNews.com posted a November 30 op-ed by Gingrich in which he attacked "the dangerously unaccountable Consumer Financial Protection Bureau." That op-ed also did not include any disclosures about Gingrich's paid anti-CFPB work

  • Fox News allows host Jeanine Pirro to work as a paid GOP fundraising speaker

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News host and legal analyst Jeanine Pirro has found a lucrative side gig headlining Republican Party fundraisers. The network has claimed that it prohibits hosts from stumping for political candidates but has no apparent objection to hosts fundraising for party committees.

    Pirro is a longtime friend of President Donald Trump who hosts the weekend program Judge Jeanine, where she pushes pro-Trump propaganda. The New York Times recently reported that Trump “rarely misses” her show and that Pirro “interviewed to be the deputy attorney general, according to three transition officials.”

    It’s not surprising that Pirro would want to help Republicans given her openly partisan background. But Fox News has suggested it has some rules for its opinion hosts. The Times reported in an October 25 profile of Laura Ingraham, who headlined a campaign fundraiser for Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R-AZ), that “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun.”

    That reported prohibition seems meaningless in the context of Pirro’s fundraising efforts. She has done at least 10 fundraisers this year for Republican Party organizations that help elect GOP candidates, according to a Media Matters review.

    While campaign finance data for all of those events is not publicly available, Media Matters found that Pirro was paid for speaking in at least five instances by the hosting group, either through her corporation Judge Jeanine Pirro Inc. or the speakers bureau that represents her.  

    Pirro has made no secret that she’s helping raise money for Republican Party groups. On her April 22 program she said that she “gave a good speech" at a Republican fundraiser in Morgantown, WV, and received a scarf as a gift. The hosting group, the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee, wrote on Facebook in response: “Judge Jeanine Pirro wearing, on national television, the scarf of ‘Presidents Signatures’ given to her by our Chair Gina Brown on behalf of the Committee as a thank you gift for her speaking at our Reagan Dinner! She mentioned us and our Committee while closing her show tonight!”

    Fox News and Pirro did not respond to requests for comment or clarification about the network's policies.

    Pirro has been an active fundraiser for Republican Party organizations this year. For instance:

    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Alachua County Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ in Florida on November 9.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Volusia County Republican Party’s October 8 Lincoln Day Dinner in Florida. The organization paid a little more than $10,000 to Pirro for book purchases and her speaking fee, according to Federal Election Commission data.
    • Pirro was the featured speaker for the Republican Party of Arkansas’ Reagan Rockefeller Dinner on July 28. The party disbursed $15,000 to Pirro, according to the organization's state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee’s April 21 Reagan Dinner in West Virginia.
    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Bonneville County GOP’s Lincoln Day Banquet on March 31 in Idaho. The organization later posted a picture on Facebook of Pirro at her Fox News set with the caption: “The freedom mink and gold nugget necklace we gave Judge Jeanine Pirro are sitting right on her desk!”
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 20 in Pennsylvania. The organization paid a little over $5,000 for the appearance, according to the group’s state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the featured speaker at the Columbiana County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 23 in Ohio.
    • Pirro was the special guest for the Erie County Republican Committee’s Lincoln Leadership Reception on March 9 in New York. The committee paid Pirro roughly $7,500, according to the group’s campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Kent County Republican Committee’s February 18 Lincoln Day Dinner in Delaware.
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Georgia Republican Party’s President’s Day Dinner on March 13. The organization paid the Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Pirro, $15,000 on the day of the event for “Speakers Fee - Presidents Day Dinner.” 

    Those Republican organizations routinely featured Pirro’s Fox News affiliation to sell tickets. Here are two examples:

    Pirro’s fundraising appearances will continue into 2018: The Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois recently announced that Pirro will headline the group’s February 8 Lincoln Day Dinner.  

    Media Matters has documented how Fox News hosts and commentators -- in addition to their on-air conservative rhetoric -- actively help Republican-aligned groups grow their coffers at partisan events. The pro-Trump group Great America Alliance recently created a fundraising page prominently featuring Fox News’ logo and celebrating the news that senior adviser Tomi Lahren had been hired as a Fox News contributor. That page was taken down after Media Matters asked Fox News whether it had approved the use of its logo.

  • Pro-Trump CNN commentator used network to push lobbying client without disclosure to viewers

    CNN’s pro-Trump contributors continue to damage the network’s journalism brand

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During a recent prime-time appearance, CNN political commentator David Urban touted the National Association of Home Builders' opposition to the current GOP tax reform bill. Neither Urban nor the network mentioned that NAHB is his lobbying client, and that it hired him specifically to lobby on tax reform.

    Urban is a former Trump campaign adviser who is now the president of the American Continental Group (ACG), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm with dozens of clients (and potential conflicts of interest with his CNN work). ACG touts Urban's CNN position to current and potential clients in the first paragraph of his profile on its website, stating that he is “a political commentator on CNN and can be seen almost daily on a variety of the network’s programming.“

    Urban appeared on Anderson Cooper 360’s November 7 coverage of that day’s election results and brought up the National Association of Home Builders unprompted, stating:

    DAVID URBAN: The tax bill will rise or fall under its own weight. Now the president has nothing to do with it. You see the National Association of Home Builders, NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business], coming against the tax bill, traditional Republican stalwarts who support the party opposing this bill. This bill has serious problems. It will rise or fall on its own merits. The president has nothing to do with it.

    CNN and Urban did not disclose that he is a lobbyist for NAHB on that very issue. The association has paid ACG $150,000 this year to lobby on “tax reform,” among other issues, according to federal records.

    In a recent report on the fight over tax reform, The New York Times described NAHB as an “influential and often Republican-aligned” group that’s working to shape tax reform legislation. Back in September, the NAHB said that it was “enthusiastically backing” Trump’s tax plan because it would offer “incentives for home mortgage interest and cutting the rate for pass-through businesses to 25 percent from as high as 39.6 percent.” Recently, however, the association’s leaders said they couldn’t back the Republicans’ latest bill because GOP leaders “wouldn’t accept an idea home builders and lawmakers had been working on: repealing the deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes and replacing them with a new tax credit,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

    Urban has also used his CNN position to push for reducing the “tax burden” on “American companies.” During the October 27 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, Urban stated: “I think there is a sense of urgency to free up some money for American workers, American companies to bring money back home and invest in their company. So, there's a great need. The tax burden is too great on American working class folks and American companies, want to try to get some parity with the rest of the world." His lobbying for clients on taxes weren't disclosed to viewers during that segment (Note: Sentence added after posting for clarity.)

    According to federal records, in addition to NAHB, Urban has lobbied for numerous companies and organizations on taxes this year, including Comcast Corporation, the National Retail Federation, and Walgreen.

    CNN and Urban did not respond to requests for comment. 

    Urban is also a lobbyist for CNN parent company Time Warner on copyright and trademark issues, the "Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2017," and "general" media issues. AT&T is attempting to acquire Time Warner but the Justice Department has yet to approve that deal.

    Media Matters and other observers have commented on how CNN’s paid pro-Trump commentators have been a headache for the network and contributed to a carnival atmosphere instead of reliable coverage.

  • Pro-Trump group’s Fox News / Tomi Lahren fundraising page disappeared after we asked Fox about it

    Fox contributor Ed Rollins is also using the network to promote the group

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    When Great America Alliance senior adviser Tomi Lahren was hired as a Fox News contributor, the pro-Trump group celebrated by creating a fundraising page prominently featuring Fox News’ logo and asking people for their email addresses and donations to celebrate her new job.

    That fundraising page, created in late August, was recently taken down after Media Matters asked Fox News whether it approved the use of its logo.

    Great America Alliance is a 501(c)(4) group that was started by Great America PAC in December 2016 after Donald Trump won the presidential election. According to Ed Rollins, a strategist for Great America PAC and a Fox News contributor, the PAC launched the group in its attempt to do “all we can to support and advocate" for Trump. As The Washington Post reported, both groups are also connected with Breitbart.com’s Steve Bannon and his “political patrons, the wealthy Mercer family. The former White House strategist does not have a formal role with the organizations, but he helped install [former deputy White House political strategist Andy] Surabian as the top strategist at the advocacy group.”

    In recent months, both groups have integrated Fox News’ branding into their fundraising and publicity efforts. Great America PAC recently sent an email featuring Fox News' logo and forwarding a Rollins op-ed that promoted the group.

    And when Lahren joined Fox News as a contributor in August, Great America Alliance wrote on its Facebook page that she would “continue advocating for an America First agenda” on the network and asked its followers to sign a card congratulating “Tomi on her tremendous achievement.” From Facebook:

    The card was a sign-up page on its 501(c)(4) website that asked for users’ email addresses and then led them to a donation page. Both the sign-up page and donation page featured Fox News’ logo.


    Media Matters asked Fox News whether it approved Great America Alliance using its logo. Shortly after that request for comment, the page was taken down.

    Great America Alliance and Great America PAC wrote other posts on their Facebook pages linking to the card. The groups removed those links when asked by Media Matters about them.

    Fox News and Great America Alliance / PAC did not reply to requests for comment and clarification.

    The network has also allowed Rollins to promote Great America Alliance and its aligned super PAC on Fox platforms. The longtime political consultant and Washington insider wrote a November 1 op-ed on FoxNews.com that decried “Washington insiders” and “the swamp” as he promoted his group, writing:

    Fortunately for conservative Americans across the country, there is now an infrastructure in place to hold establishment Republicans accountable. My organization, Great America PAC and our allied Great America Alliance, has already engaged in successful races in Georgia, Montana, and most recently in Alabama. There, we helped former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore take down the Washington establishment’s well-funded choice, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). Moore defeated Senator Strange by double digits, sending another conservative-turned-centrist into political irrelevance.

    Last year, our team placed 30 million phone calls and sent over 2.5 million pieces of direct mail. We motivated millions of active, engaged Trump supporters across the country. And we will do so again in 2018 to elect real representatives who will stand behind our president’s America First agenda and drain the swamp.

    In 2016, we took our blue campaign bus on multiple national tours to get out the vote. Democrats and Republicans need to get on board with President Trump or they will be seeing the bus.

    After Rollins published his piece, Great America PAC sent the op-ed to its email list from “Ed Rollins via Fox News.” The email also included Fox News’ logo and a contribution appeal.

  • Roy Moore paying big money to companies headed by shady consultant called out by Laura Ingraham

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Republican Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate campaign has paid over a quarter million dollars to a network of companies headed by a Republican consultant who was repudiated by Moore endorsee Laura Ingraham as a scammer and “PAC troll.”

    Moore is a twice-removed judge and far-right pundit -- he has said that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” -- who won Alabama’s Republican Senate primary against sitting Sen. Luther Strange. Conservative media figures such as Steve Bannon, Mark Levin, and Sarah Palin have supported Moore. Ingraham, who has her own history of extremism and anti-gay rhetoric, also endorsed Moore in the primary and hosted him on her radio program.

    While conservative pundits have supported Moore because he will “take on DC’s swamp monsters” (as Sarah Palin put it), the consultant behind a network of firms helping Moore has been dogged by ethical questions.

    Moore paid over $250,000 to the North Carolina companies Capital Square Funding Group, Tidewater Strategies, and Rightside Lists for consulting and list rentals from June through early September, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data. Those firms are headed by Reilly O’Neal, who also leads the North Carolina Gun Rights PAC and the Principled Leadership Project PAC.

    Conservatives, including Ingraham, have criticized O’Neal for dodgy fundraising practices. The Principled Leadership Project PAC sent fundraising emails earlier this year asking people “to join our official Draft Laura movement,” which encouraged the radio host to run for Senate in Virginia. The PAC also set up a “Draft Laura” website that asked for readers’ email addresses and then contributions for a fundraising deadline.

    Ingraham publicly repudiated the efforts as a scam, writing in an April 25 tweet: “PAC TROLLS: Tell everyone NOT to give a DIME to the PrincipledPAC run by some guy named Reilly O'Neal, supposedly for my ‘Senate run.’”

    Media Matters and others have documented that the conservative movement has been infected with shady fundraising tactics and scam PACs that “critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them,” as Ken Vogel reported in 2015. Such PACs not only pay their consultants large salaries, but can also gather email addresses that they then rent to other entities. PACs that have fundraised off the names of Allen West, Ken Cuccinelli, and David Clarke, among others, have drawn criticism.

    A significant amount of the money raised by the Principled Leadership Project PAC around the time it was leading its supposed “official Draft Laura” movement went to O’Neal’s groups, according to a review of FEC records.

    WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, NC, reported in June that O’Neal’s groups “have faced criticism for their questionable tactics” and spoke to an unnamed Republican lawmaker who said that “he has seen little advocacy from North Carolina Gun Rights.”  

    Media Matters asked O’Neal about conservative criticism of him and his involvement with the Moore campaign. He sent the following statement: “Tidewater Strategies and Capital Square Funding Group are proud to have very efficiently raised significant numbers of dollars for top-tier conservative projects -- from helping to win Judge Roy Moore the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama, to building grassroots conservative armies from Florida to Alaska.” Moore’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

  • The Republican Governors Association tried to run a shady, undisclosed phony “news” website

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).

    There’s a reason for that: FreeTelegraph.com is actually a project of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), the GOP organization that exists to elect and support Republican governors. And until The Associated Press started asking questions about the site, it operated without disclosing that fact to the public. The effort represents a new frontier in political entities taking advantage of the existing social media infrastructure to push their messages.

    An RGA spokesperson told the AP that the site is “just another outlet to share those positive results” from Republican governors. But the site’s critics have noted that the RGA’s initial effort to hide its involvement “appropriat[ed] the integrity of news,” in the words of political communications expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

    Here’s the bottom of the website today:

    And before the reporter reached out to the RGA:

    The website’s associated Facebook and Twitter accounts still give no indication that they are RGA products.

    FreeTelegraph.com, which has published more than 100 articles since its launch in July and promises “political news” from “beyond the Beltway,” appears to have been designed to take advantage of the same social media ecosystem that led to the rise of fake news.

    Typically, hyperpartisan websites produce packaged “news” articles, often based on social media or web forum posts, then promote the stories on their affiliated Facebook page. If the stories are sufficiently interesting, they generate significant user engagement; the story spreads, the original website makes money from the ensuing traffic based on advertisements on the page, and other hyperpartisan websites pick up the story and put their own spin on it in an effort to cash in as well. When several different websites are all pushing the same story it gives the account the veneer of credibility, both with individual social media users and through social media platform algorithms like Facebook’s trending topics.

    The RGA’s “news” website adopts a similar practice, but its goal is political impact, not money -- there are no advertisements at FreeTelegraph.com. The articles are based on Republican talking points, not social media posts, with dozens of them either linking to or citing RGA press releases. The articles are then promoted by affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts, in an effort to share the stories widely with the hope that other news sites will pick them up.

    FreeTelegraph.com’s effort to conceal its link to the RGA is notable. Articles do not include bylines, and there is no masthead listing who writes for the site. The website has no “About Us” disclosing the site’s purpose or leadership, and there’s no copyright information. It is registered to “Domains by Proxy LLC,” a service that allows purchasers to hide their identification from the public. Until the website added a disclosure after being contacted by a curious reporter, people who saw one of the website’s posts while scrolling through their Facebook feeds and clicked on it would have no reason to think they were viewing content paid for by a Republican Party organization.

    So far, FreeTelegraph.com has had little success. Its Twitter and Facebook feeds have attracted a few hundred followers apiece, with most posts receiving virtually no engagement; the only verified person to tweet links from the site on Twitter is an RGA digital staffer. There’s a good reason for that failure: The site’s content is boring, a melange of rewarmed press releases and stodgy talking points.

    But the website demonstrates proof of concept for a shady new political development: digital-first “news” sites backed by powerful Republican Party organizations that utilize the existing news ecosystem to promote their agenda, all without a hint of disclosure. FreeTelegraph.com may be the first of these, and it has the warts to match. It won’t be the last.

  • Newt Gingrich used Fox position to push for-profit colleges without disclosing conflict of interest

    Following Media Matters inquiry, FoxNews.com added belated editor’s notes disclosing Gingrich’s for-profit college ties

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Newt Gingrich has been helping the for-profit college industry -- both behind the scenes and through his Fox News platform -- in its attempt to dismantle safeguards designed to protect students from being saddled with debt and targeted with unsavory practices.

    Gingrich’s efforts include FoxNews.com op-eds which, until recently, pushed for-profit college talking points without any disclosure that he works as a consultant for that industry.

    President Barack Obama led a crackdown on fraud and abusive practices within the for-profit college industry. For instance, the administration released regulations to let students "apply to have their federal loans discharged if their college used illegal and deceptive tactics to persuade them to borrow money to attend," as The Washington Post noted. It also made changes to the “gainful employment” rule, which, according to the Post, would have effectively “shut down for-profit programs that repeatedly fail to show, through certain measures, that graduates are earning enough to pay down the loans taken out to attend those programs.”

    Those reform measures were opposed by the for-profit college industry and its main lobbying organization, Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU). The group states that it represents “more than 600 educational institutions” and “advocates for policies that seek to reduce the regulatory burden of all institutions of higher education.”

    Under President Donald Trump’s administration and Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' supervision, the for-profit industry is making a comeback. Politico recently reported that “for-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.”

    The publication reported that as part of the industry’s efforts, CECU hired Gingrich as a consultant “to make connections inside the Trump world.” CECU is headed by former Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-WI), who is friends with Gingrich and had hired Callista Gingrich -- now nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See -- as a staffer in his House office. (Callista Gingrich also consulted for CECU, according to her financial disclosure forms.)

    Newt Gingrich has not only been doing the lobbying group’s work behind the scenes -- he’s also been using his position as a Fox News contributor to push for-profit college talking points, writing three FoxNews.com op-eds about the issue since he was hired by CECU.

    Gingrich wrote an August 5, 2016, op-ed in which he criticized the Democratic Party platform for imposing “special regulations targeting private sector colleges, universities and career education programs” and criticized the Obama administration for purportedly punishing “good, law abiding institutions that focus on skills training and career education.” That op-ed included a note that Gingrich “is an advisor to Career Education Colleges and Universities.”

    But two subsequent op-eds did not initially include any disclosure that Gingrich works for CECU.

    Gingrich wrote an op-ed in December in which he criticized the Department of Education for having “forced almost 900 private sector campuses into closure” in the past four years. The op-ed quoted “a recent analysis of Department of Education data by Career Education Colleges and Universities” to show that private sector schools are “critical” to certain industries. He also wrote that “the Trump administration should announce that it intends to make the disastrous Gainful Employment Rule open for review.” (The administration has since halted the rule.)

    He wrote another op-ed in March criticizing the Obama administration for having purportedly “made a mission out of demonizing private for-profit colleges and universities. … Not only will these Obama-led efforts hurt Americans, but without these colleges and career training programs, our ability to fill the jobs President Trump is working to bring to this county will be severely hindered.”

    Media Matters sent requests for comment to Fox News about the lack of disclosures. Fox did not respond but subsequently added editor’s notes about Gingrich’s conflict of interest.

    Gingrich has a history of problems with transparency and ethics ranging from his time as House speaker -- when, as NPR noted, “he was the first speaker of the House, ever, to be punished by the House for ethics violations” -- to his media career at CNN and Fox News.

    FoxNews.com recently initially failed to disclose another conflict of interest with op-ed writer James J. Fotis, who took to the website to defend recently pardoned racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That piece initially did not note that Fotis is “paid to run Arpaio's legal defense charity.” As the Post’s Erik Wemple noted about that op-ed, “When it comes to such disclosures, the more information, the better."  

  • The White House press corps should follow up on new communications director’s financial conflicts

    New reports raise questions about Anthony Scaramucci’s promise that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    According to Politico, Anthony Scaramucci “still stands to profit” from his ownership stake in a hedge fund he founded in 2005 despite his assertion that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed” of conflicts of interest before he assumed a full-time role as communications director at the White House.

    During a July 21 press conference in which Scaramucci announced his new role in the Trump administration, he claimed that the position would not be encumbered by conflicts of interest tied to his previous business dealings. However, according to a July 26 report from Politico, Scaramucci “still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that federal employees “may be directed to divest” from certain stock or property holdings in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest, but Scaramucci was still listed as SkyBridge’s managing partner as of July 27 and, according to a financial disclosure form published by Politico, Scaramucci still expects to receive significant returns from the upcoming sale of his SkyBridge assets:

    According to a July 25 report from Bloomberg citing “people familiar with Scaramucci’s recent thinking,” the incoming communications director “was eager to take another government post” in part so he could benefit from an agreement with the IRS that allows appointees to defer some capital gains taxes when they are forced to liquidate private business relationships in order to assume federal government roles. However, several ethics experts contacted by Bloomberg believe Scaramucci should be disqualified from that tax arrangement because the terms of the sale of his company pre-dated his assumption of a federal government role by several months.

    CNBC reported last week that Scaramucci’s ongoing attempt to close the sale of SkyBridge Capital “delayed his appointment” to the Trump administration earlier this year, but he has technically been an employee of the federal government since joining the Export-Import Bank last month while the SkyBridge deal remained unfinished.

    The SkyBridge deal itself is increasingly raising questions. Bloomberg reported in January that the Chinese government linked foreign conglomerate lined up to purchase SkyBridge is paying significantly more for the firm than it seems to be worth. On July 24, Business Insider described the purchase agreement for the sale of SkyBridge as “a $180 million conflict of interest hanging over [Scaramucci’s] head” because the sale will eventually have to be approved by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with whom Scaramucci will work closely in his new role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. (Rumors that Scaramucci may be in line to replace Reince Priebus as the president’s chief of staff may further exacerbate the financial conflict.)

    Given the Trump team’s extraordinary penchant for misleading the press, reporters should continue digging for proof of Scaramucci’s compliance with ethics regulations routinely flouted by the Trump family and other members of the administration.