By Josh Israel and Aaron Mehta, iWatch News
As the phone hacking scandal grows around Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, disclosure records show that the company spent over $1.5 million on federal lobbying in the first three months of this year -- including lobbying on issues of digital privacy.
Disclosure forms filed with the Senate Office of Public Records show that News Corp's American arm, News America Inc., employed seven in-house lobbyists supplemented by six outside lobbying firms hired by the company. The lobbyists worked on an array of issues relevant to broadcast television, but also crossed into issues of free trade, defense spending, and increasing the debt ceiling.
The growing controversy about alleged illegal hacking by employees of News Corp. has laid bare the company's broad influence on British politics writ large. Over the past three decades, though, Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have been plenty active on this side of the pond, including a cool $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association last year.
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Notably, the company whose U.K. affiliate is under fire for alleged phone hacking and whose domestic operations are being investigated by the FBI , lobbied on issues including "online privacy," consumer privacy protection bills such as the " BEST PRACTICES Act " and " Do Not Track Me Online Act ," and, simply, "privacy."
Though lobbying disclosure rules require filers to be specific when listing issues and legislation on which they've lobbied, several of these categories were quite general and News America did not respond to requests for more details, including on which side of these issues the company was advocating.
In addition, by virtue of the company's $1 million donation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last summer, News America may also be de facto bankrolling a second set of lobbyists. An iWatch News examination of the Chamber's disclosure forms found significant activity on online copyright infringement issues, a major focus of News America's lobbying. A story by the Guardian newspaper of London noted that the Chamber also worked to loosen the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. based companies from participating in the bribery of foreign officials -- rules that potentially could come into play during the ongoing legal investigation of Murdoch's empire.
The "BEST PRACTICES Act" was introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., to protect the right of Internet users to decide "meaningful choices about the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information." Similarly, the "Do Not Track Me Online Act" aims to create a "Do Not Call"-style list for Internet users, allowing them to opt out from online marketers gathering their data for advertising purposes. That bill, introduced in February by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., is currently stuck in committee.
News America and the lobbying firms hired by both did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the Bill of Rights permits petitioning the government for a redress of grievances and said the association's policy positions "are always made by answering one question: Will this policy help stimulate private sector job creation?"
Last week, as the hacking story erupted, iWatch News reported on campaign contributions from Murdoch and his corporate PAC totaling millions, amid calls on members of Congress to return the money.