Murdoch/Kasich Link Sparks Campaign Law Questions

››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Rupert Murdoch's recent admission that News Corp's $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association stemmed from his friendship with former Fox News host John Kasich has raised concerns from several campaign finance experts.

Those who follow campaign finance issues, including three attorneys from Ohio -- where Kasich is the Republican nominee for governor -- raised concerns that Murdoch's admission could violate the spirit of the state's $11,395.56 personal campaign contribution limit for statewide races, if not the letter of the law.

"I personally find it offensive," said Craig S. Miller, a campaign finance attorney from Cleveland. "I can't say it is illegal, but I find it very disturbing particularly given the U.S. Supreme Court decision. These new organizations are set up to process and launder campaign contributions all over the country.

"It is part of the same concept, unfortunately. You have legal limits, but it really circumvents all of that and makes the process a bit of a sham because there are not applicable limits."

At issue is the $1 million RGA contribution made by News Corp. in June. Murdoch told Politico earlier this week that the donation was not made to help News Corp. with any influence but because of Murdoch's friendship with Kasich.

Politico reported:

Murdoch, who was in Washington to receive an award from The Media Institute, brushed aside concerns that the gift, which was unusually large and one-sided for a media company, might hurt Fox's credibility as a news organization that reports on politics.

"It doesn't reflect on Fox News," he said. "It had nothing to do with Fox News. The RGA [gift] was actually [a result of] my friendship with John Kasich."

That Kasich connection could be construed as a way to circumvent Ohio's contribution limit for gubernatorial candidates, say some experts.

"If it turns out that that donation was in part earmarked, in my mind it would be circumventing state law," said Kenneth Fisher, a campaign finance attorney in Cleveland. "It probably means that it is wrong. But what can you do about it?"

Fisher said a review by the State Elections Commission would have to determine if the money was meant to reach Kasich: "If it is earmarked then it is unlawful. The question is whether he is violating Ohio law. That is what I would look at. There is a cap and if that is a way to get around the cap, that is wrong. That would trouble me."

Subodh Chandra, another Ohio attorney with campaign finance expertise, stated: "Mr. Murdoch's admission raises a question about whether the contribution was an improper 'nominee' contribution intended to circumvent Ohio's laws intended to give all of us an equal voice in whom our leaders will be.

"The problem with such actions are that the damage will be done long before the system can address it."

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., found a clear violation of the intent of campaign limits in the Murdoch situation.

"A reasonable person would see that as the millionaire helping that candidate in that race," she said of the Murdoch/Kasich connection. "What is distasteful about this report with Murdoch is that most states operate under the notice that you have contribution limits so races cannot be bought and sold.

"Then you have someone like Murdoch who comes in and drops $1 million and 99 percent of Americans cannot afford or bother to give $200. It gives you a sense of how the system is tilted in favor of the wealthy."

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, agreed and said it should be considered a violation of the campaign law.

"It may violate the law and probably does," he told me. "Most campaign finance laws define a contribution to a candidate as being any earmarked contribution that is laundered through a third party group."

On Murdoch's comment about Kasich, Holman added, "To me, that is an admission that the contribution is earmarked and I would interpret it as an earmarked contribution. Clearly, without a doubt, it violates the spirit of the law and it strongly suggests it violates the letter of the law."

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