Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 4, 5 or 6
Labor is leading the fight to keep the Chicago Tribune newspapers free from overt partisan control, using their financial clout as well as their street presence.
The right-wing billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, oil men from Kansas City, have financed conservative and libertarian causes and founded the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, whose stated goals are to limit government and eliminate regulations. Now they’re after the Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, plus the Allentown Daily Call, the Baltimore Sun, the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va., the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, plus Hoy, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language newspaper.
The powerful Kochs are busy.
Last week, the non-partisan, nonprofit Center for Public Integrity revealed that Koch Industries’ political action committee (KOCHPAC) so far this year has stepped up its campaign contributions.
“KOCHPAC donated $559,000 to federal-level political candidates and committees during the first five months of the year,” reported the Center’s Dave Levinthal. “That easily bests its output for the same time periods during previous election cycles: $387,500 in 2011, $274,500 in 2009 and $387,570 in 2007.”
In Illinois, Common Cause Illinois director Rey Lopez Calderon on June 20 addressed the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois (TRS) in Springfield, where he relayed concerns to TRS managers that there are negative implications of a sale of the Tribune to the Kochs, stressed that a good return on the fund’s investment doesn’t depend on a quick sale to them, and that TRS shouldn’t be “passive” investors.
In particular, two of TRS’ investment funds – Oaktree Capital and Angelo Gordon – are at issue. Oaktree owns 23.5% of the Tribune; Angelo Gordon owns 9.4%. Oaktree’s clients also include pension funds from the Illinois State Retirement Systems, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, and union holdings from six other states. Angelo Gordon’s clients include pension funds or union funds from five states.
Since the investment funds arguably work for TRS and other labor-friendly funds, they should be responsive to unions’ preferences.
Elsewhere, actions against the Kochs’ acquisition of the newspaper’s holdings took place or are scheduled at pension fund meetings from coast to coast, and a panel sponsored by The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America (CWA) was June 26, when speakers criticized the Kochs and their takeover of the Tribune.
“It should go without saying that the sale of this still-potent media empire to the cash-addled Koch brothers duo … would be a disaster,” writes reporter Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. “But the issue here isn’t so much what I think about the Koch brothers. It’s what the private equity firms and banks that are the major shareholders in the Tribune Co. think. Because it turns out that some of these firms are heavily dependent upon investment from public unions, which would make their participation in the sale of a media empire to the public-union-bashing Kochs severely problematic.”
The Newspaper Guild, which represents Baltimore Sun workers, says it’s just seeking responsible buyers committed to unbiased news.
“TNG-CWA and CWA have called on the Tribune Co. to pledge to sell its holdings to a buyer that will protect the objectivity of the news product,” they said. “Great papers publish credible, trusted journalism. Whoever comes to own these mastheads needs to understand that protecting newsrooms from ideological taint is no small thing.”
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was more direct.
“The Koch brothers have given millions to Right-Wing organizations that want to dismantle Social Security, repeal health-care reform, overturn Wall Street regulations, roll back environmental standards, and eliminate workers’ collective bargaining rights,” he said. “It is hard to imagine how the Tribune newspapers would continue to provide quality, independent journalism if they were under the control of the Koch brothers. We need newspapers that are dedicated to providing objective and high-quality reporting, not another Fox News-style propaganda machine.”
For organized labor, the Kochs interest in the Tribune presents an opportunity to flex the muscle that millions of dollars in mutual funds should represent.
“We’re investing in companies that lead to the layoff of our beneficiaries,” says Liz Greenwood, a trustee for the L.A. County Pension Fund. “We have to be aware.”
Taibbi agrees, adding, “This is a situation where the public-sector unions themselves need to know what kinds of activities their money-managers are involved with. These workers possess an enormous amount of political power via their retirement plans.
“In the long run,” he continues, “it would almost certainly be both financially and politically detrimental to all of these public-sector employees who trusted their money with these management firms to see the massive propaganda power of the Trib papers unleashed upon them.”
[PICTURED: Graphic from AFL-CIO]