Like them or not, this country has laws limiting political donations, meant to insure that wealthy individuals and powerful corporations don't play an undue role in deciding who gets elected. But one wealthy individual in charge of a powerful corporation, News Corp. (NWS) chairman Rupert Murdoch, has found an entirely legal way to put millions of dollars directly into the bank accounts of leading candidates from his favored party: He hires them.
Beginning later this month, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee will host a new daily syndicated talk show, The Huckabee Show. It will be produced by Twentieth Television, a unit of News Corp., and air on Fox stations. The deal appears to be an outgrowth of Huckabee, a weekend program the former presidential hopeful -- who some polls have leading the field of potential 2012 nominees for the GOP -- has hosted on Fox News since 2008.
Fox News is also the TV home of Sarah Palin, who signed on in January as a paid contributor. And that's just one of the revenue streams Palin derives from News Corp.; she's also getting royalty checks from its publishing house HarperCollins for her memoir, Going Rogue.
While we're at it, let's not forget longtime Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich, who came in fourth in a closely-watched straw poll of likely Republican presidential candidates earlier this year. Gingrich joined the Fox News team in 1999, within weeks of leaving the House of Representatives.
Ignore, for the moment, the priceless boost in name-recognition that a politician gets from being on TV all the time. Ignore the benefit of experience that accrues from engaging in countless live debates and roundtable discussions (a benefit that could be especially valuable for Palin, whose shaky extemporaneous speaking skills became painfully obvious during the 2008 campaign). Let's just talk about money.
In a recent New Yorker profile, Huckabee complained repeatedly about his difficulty with fundraising, a difficultly that put him at a severe disadvantage relative to a candidate like Mitt Romney, who was able to supplement his war chest with $35 million of his own money. Palin has also had money troubles: The burden of legal bills is believe to be part of what drove her to leave office early for the private sector. Should they decide to run, Murdoch's munificence could well be what pushes both candidacies from dead on the vine to viable.
I'm not suggesting that Murdoch would want to see either of them in the White House. Everything we know about his personal politics suggests he'd prefer someone like Mitt Romney, who's pro-business and relatively moderate on social issues. But if either of them were to win the presidency, you can bet that Murdoch would rather it be with gratitude in their hearts.
There is, of course, nothing remotely secretive about any of this. All of these hirings have been marked by press releases and touted in the trades. If and when they run, Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich will presumably disclose exactly how much News Corp. paid them in their tax returns.
Indeed, it's the sort of thing that's so public, it's easy to forget about. But maybe we shouldn't. In a way that is, as far as I know, unprecedented, one man -- a man who happens to own the nation's largest circulation newspaper and its top-rated news channel -- has gathered under his tent a plurality of the people most likely to win their party's next presidential nomination, encouraging them to use him as a sort of rest-and-refueling stop between campaigns. I don't really have any idea what, if anything, ought to be done about this. But we certainly shouldn't ignore it.