With Fox personalities defending the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Wall Street Journal publishing editorials criticizing its detractors (including the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), by name), some have wondered whether or not Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and many broadcast licenses, is an ALEC member.
Yes, News Corp. is an ALEC member. It has funded ALEC operations.
Documents obtained and released by Common Cause show that News Corp. was a member of ALEC's Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force as of April 2010. Adam Peshek, who staffs ALEC's Education Task Force, told Education Week that News Corp. has been a member of both ALEC's Education Task Force and Communications and Technology Task Force since January 2012. However, the public does not have complete records indicating when News Corp. first started supporting ALEC or the duration of its involvement on these two task forces or other ALEC task forces, if any, in 2011 and prior years. (The Common Cause documents begin in 2010, and ALEC has stopped circulating its task force member list even to other task force members.)
News Corp.'s News of the World Phone-Hacking Scandal
News Corp. also owned News of the World, the tabloid that closed its doors in the wake of the UK phone-hacking scandal. Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corp., has been charged with attempting to conceal evidence in the case. Her husband and four close associates have also been charged.
Rupert Murdoch and his son James, the former executive chairman of News International, have not been charged but testified together before a UK Parliamentary committee. James Murdoch stepped down from his position as chairman of News International in February 2012 before it folded, and in April 2012 he also resigned as chairman of the board of broadcaster BSkyB. James Murdoch has testified three times before Parliamentary committees, most recently in April 2012, when he again "blamed his subordinates for keeping him ill-informed about the extent of hacking at newspapers then under his control," according to the New York Times.
Emails released in April 2012 also indicate collaboration between a News Corp. lobbyist and the office of Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, who would have made the decision on News Corp.'s bid for BSkyB. This expanded the focus of the investigation to the political influence of News Corp. UK Prime Minister James Cameron has been a close friend of Rebekah and Charlie Brooks. James Murdoch attended Christmas Dinner with Cameron and the Brookses in 2010.
In July 2011, the US Department of Justice said it had spoken to the UK's Serious Fraud Office about how to investigate claims that News Corp.'s News of the World title had paid police for information. According to the BBC, "The US Department of Justice's interest in News Corp. stems from the fact that its headquarters are in New York, but its shares are listed in both the US and Australia. It is illegal for any US company to pay bribes to overseas officials, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator William Proxmire from Wisconsin and prohibits bribing any foreign official for business gain. Multinational corporations involved in ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are working to carve out major exceptions in the law to make it harder to enforce.
News Corp.'s New Interest in Privatizing Education
When News Corp. acquired Wireless Generation, a for-profit online education, software, and testing corporation, for $360 million in cash in 2010, Rupert Murdoch called the for-profit K-12 education industry "a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed." A few weeks before the closing of the deal, News Corp. hired Joel Klein, then the chancellor of New York City schools, to run its education division.
University of Arizona education professor Kenneth Goodman suspects that Murdoch is bringing his conservative ideology to his education ventures: "They'd like everything to be privatized," he told Mother Jones last year.
Notably, in the summer of 2011, New York state considered a $27 million contract with Wireless Generation to track student performance. The New York teachers' unions objected to this outsourcing. "It is especially troubling that Wireless Generation will be tasked with creating a centralized database for personal student information even as its parent company, News Corporation, stands accused of engaging in illegal news-gathering tactics," representatives from the state and New York City teachers' unions wrote. The state decided against the contract, citing "vendor responsibility issues involving the parent company of Wireless Generation."
About a year after the purchase of Wireless Generation, in September 2011, Murdoch was the keynote speaker at former Florida governor Jeb Bush's education "reform" summit. Jeb Bush is the Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an ALEC member organization that hosted the summit.
According to Mother Jones, Murdoch's "speech to a collection of conservative ed reformers, state legislators, and educators is just the latest step in Murdoch's quiet march into the business of education, which has been somewhat eclipsed by the phone-hacking scandal besieging his media empire." MoJo reported that his agenda in the "business of education" seems to be to divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools into for-profit education outfits, including online schools, private charter schools, and homeschooling services.
In the months following that gathering, Murdoch also donated to ex-DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee's new group, StudentsFirst, which according to The Nation "has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists." At an earlier Media Institute awards dinner in Washington shortly before he bought a financial stake in privatizing education through purchasing Wireless Generation, Murdoch called Rhee a "bona fide reformer."
News Corp. and the ALEC Education Agenda
Although ALEC's new staffer for its Education Task Force told the press that News Corp. became a private sector member of that task force just four months ago, the prior task force staffer, David Myslinski, told Education Week that the fact that News Corp.'s new subsidiary, Wireless Generation, had previously been an ALEC member (from 2007 to 2009, according to a Wireless Generation spokesperson) could have led the subsidiary to being listed mistakenly on the Education Task Force meeting agenda as a new member in place of its parent, News Corp.
As CMD has reported, ALEC's education agenda encompasses a more than 20-year effort to privatize public education through an ever-expanding network of school voucher systems, which divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools to private schools. ALEC bills also divert public funds into private charter schools or for-profit internet school corporations. ALEC bills also allow public and for-profit schools to loosen standards for teachers and administrators, change the education plans for students with physical disabilities and special educational needs, escape the protections of collective bargaining agreements, and aid other pet causes such as diverting tax dollars to subsidize schools focused on the right-wing political and religious indoctrination of students. Learn more about ALEC's education agenda in The Nation here.
News Corp. and the ALEC Communications Agenda
ALEC's news education staffer, Peshek, said that News Corp. also joined the Communications and Technology Task Force in January 2012. However, records obtained by Common Cause show that News Corp.'s Senior Vice President, Bill Guidera, attended ALEC's April 2010 Spring Task Force Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, as a member of what was then called the Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force. The reason for this discrepancy between documentary evidence and ALEC's recent public statements about this is not known.
At the meeting April 2010 meeting attended by Guidera, the task force hosted a panel on the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan. The Reason Foundation's Steve Titch, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's (NCTA's) Rick Cimerman, and AT&T's Hank Hultquist discussed the National Broadband Plan. Intuit's Jim Ruda presented on and introduced a proposed "Resolution on Government Tax Preparation & Electronic Filing." The resolution was approved by the legislative and private sector members of the task force. (Intuit subsequently dropped ALEC this spring in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting and other controversial information about ALECs agenda and operations, as documented by CMD/ALECexposed.)
Additionally, NetChoice's Braden Cox discussed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which relates to requirements for law enforcement access to internet and other online or stored records. And Rep. John Evans (R-PA) discussed legal penalties and approaches to the problem of "sexting," sexually explicit communications on cell phones by teens. NetChoice also introduced a proposed "Resolution Opposing the Expansion of the Federal Trade Commission's Rulemaking Authority." The resolution was approved by the task force's private sector and public sector members.
News Corp. is a multinational, multi-platform media conglomerate. The ALEC Communications and Technology Task Force, on which News Corp. has a seat, has long had a far-reaching agenda to deregulate the communications industry and has opposed key protections of the public's airwaves for ordinary citizens, such as "net neutrality" and the "Fairness Doctrine." However, News Corp.'s particular business interests in the jurisdiction of this ALEC task force are not fully known.
The Rush to Dump ALEC
16 corporations have announced they have cut ties to ALEC in recent weeks, including Amazon.com, Scantron Corporation, Kaplan Higher Education, Procter & Gamble, YUM! Brands, Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Traffic Solutions, Reed Elsevier, Arizona Public Service, Mars, Wendy's, McDonald's, Intuit, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. Four non-profits -- including Lumina Foundation for Education, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and the Gates Foundation -- have cut ties to ALEC, bringing the total number of ALEC private sector members who have left to 19. In addition, 54 state legislators have also left ALEC in the past two months.
Color of Change, along with CMD, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and others are now asking Amazon, State Farm, AT&T, and Johnson & Johnson to cut ties with ALEC.