The Money Behind Fox's Promotion Of Cliven Bundy's Battle With The Feds

Koch Brothers And Bundy

Right-wing media have been rushing to distance themselves from the Nevada rancher they've spent weeks championing after Cliven Bundy revealed his racist worldview, but two of Bundy's biggest cheerleaders -- Sean Hannity and Fox News -- have vested corporate, financial, and political interests in the promotion of Cliven Bundy's anti-government land ownership agenda.  

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy became Fox News' favorite folk hero after he refused to comply with court orders directing him to remove his trespassing cattle from public land. Hannity and many other right-wing media rallied around Bundy and his armed supporters as they threatened violence against federal law enforcement officials attempting to impound Bundy's cattle and collect the $1 million he owes in fines and fees after decades of noncompliance with the law.

Bundy has said he doesn't recognize the existence of the federal government nor its authority over the land and has attacked the federal ownership of lands as subverting Nevada's “state sovereignty.” 

Hannity has promoted Bundy's anti-government rhetoric, arguing that the federal government owns far too much land and pushing Bundy's claim that not only does the federal government not have land-ownership authority but that they don't need or use the land they claim to own. On the April 23 edition of his show, Hannity attacked the government for owning too much land, agreeing with Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano that they do not have the constitutional authority to own any of the land. Throughout the land battle, Hannity continuously argued that the government is irresponsibly fighting for land they have no intended use for -- such as building hospitals, schools, or roads -- and should focus their efforts elsewhere to rapists, murderers, criminals, and pedophiles.

Bundy and Hannity's promotion of state ownership of federal lands gives airtime to an issue that conservatives have long been campaigning for but have had difficulty getting voters excited about -- an issue in line with the land  interests of the Koch brothers. Slate reported on April 23 that the Fox News corporate, financial, and political interests being served by Hannity's promotion of Bundy lie in the network's connection to the Koch brothers:

Bundy's anti-federal agenda is closely aligned with that of Charles and David Koch, major Republican donors who have been pushing for states to gain control over federal lands - so they can be sold or leased to people like the Koch brothers in deals.

Fox News Network and Sean Hannity have a particular interest in the promotion and realization of such Koch interests because their funding depends on it -- Hannity receives major funding and large ad buys from Koch-affiliated Heritage and Tea Party Patriots.

Hannity's Koch-affiliated funders have a long history of promoting the privatization of public lands and condemning the federal ownership of land. Tea Party groups have supported local efforts to transfer federal lands. Heritage has advocated shrinking the U.S. government's control by selling its physical assets such as “huge swaths of land (especially out west).” Heritage was also a loyal promoter of the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2013, advocating for the transfer of federal land management to state regulators for energy resource development.

Giving airtime to an issue that is obscure but significant to his conservative funders makes perfect sense for Hannity. Politico reported that Heritage began sponsoring Hannity in 2008 and in 2013 Hannity began advertising for the Tea Party Patriots, “lending his name to fundraising drives, hosting its leaders on his radio and Fox News shows, and even using the Fox airwaves to promote the Tea Party Patriots website.”

The Koch brothers have been covertly funding right-wing organizations such as Heritage Action and the Tea Party Patriots through the non-profit business league Freedom Partners whose tax code status as a trade association allows the organization to conceal its donors. Freedom Partners is one of the largest donors of conservative groups and its board has deep ties to the Koch brothers with many of its members being longtime employees of Koch Industries and the Charles G. Koch Foundation.

The Koch-funded Freedom Partners made grants of $236 million in 2011; among many conservative groups its recipients include Heritage as well as the Tea Party Patriots. Heritage Action received $500,000 in 2011 from the Koch brothers through Freedom Partners and additional funds from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. In 2012, the Tea Party Patriots received $200,000 from Freedom Partners. 

The legislative efforts of such groups to transfer control of federal lands to states are "nothing more than corporate-backed messaging tools" initiated by conservative groups like the Koch-affiliates. Such efforts are rooted in the interests of the Kochs and other conservative groups to use the land in whichever way is most profitable to them such as mining, drilling, and other resource extraction.