Murdoch donates $1m to Republicans

He supported Obama in 2008, but now the media tycoon has made one of the Republicans’ biggest privat

Rupert Murdoch has donated $1m to the Republican Party in advance of the midterm elections in November.

The media magnate supported and praised Barack Obama from early on in the primary season in 2008, but has now turned to the Republicans, it seems. News Corporation commented that it supported the Republicans' "pro-business agenda" and felt that the party was aligned with "our priorities at this most critical time for our economy".

The Murdoch-owned titles the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as Fox News, have long been editorially aligned with the Republicans, and now Murdoch himself is following suit.

Crucially, the donation was made to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Although the main focus so far has been on the House and Senate races, where unusual candidates and unusually large predicted gains have drawn media attention, the GOP also looks likely to gain a majority of governorships. There are 37 governorships being contested this year, the most ever in a single election.

Unlike national political parties and individual candidates for the House and Senate, gubernatorial campaigns can accept unlimited donations from corporations. News Corporation has clearly taken advantage of this in choosing the destination of its funds.

Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Wisconsin all look likely to swing to the Republicans, and in several more states the race is too close to call. A combination of governing-party implosion and the after-effects of the recession will probably allow the Republicans to take six or seven governorships overall, despite a few potential wobbles by GOP candidates in Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota.

This is by no means the first time that Murdoch has switched political allegiances to favour his own business interests. In the UK, his famed switch from Conservative to Labour stands out, as does the less prominent switch back for the most recent general election.

Targeting the funding at gubernatorial races rather than those for the House and Senate is undoubtedly designed to further the "pro-business agenda" identified by News Corporation. Although there are variations with individual state constitutions, many governors wield immense power over budgeting and local government appointments, enabling them to set the agenda for regulation and taxation in their state. It increasingly seems that many state legislatures will also swing to the Republicans, and so new governors aren't likely to have much trouble passing legislation once they're in office.

According to information released through the Internal Revenue Service, the RGA has raised $58m in the first half of this year to the Democrats' $40m. In addition to benefiting from anti-incumbent sentiment and recession backlash, the RGA has received significant donations from health insurance giants such as Wellpoint, in response to the passage of the Democrats' health-care bill earlier this year.

Across the US, the midterms are going to be a useful political bellwether for how the parties are really faring post-2008. Murdoch's donation signals perhaps the most intriguing area: how many governorships can the Republicans take?

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.