Sludge produces investigative journalism on lobbying and money in politics. The American Prospect is re-publishing this article.
When Rupert Murdoch sold part of his 21st Century Fox company to Disney, he formed a new firm, Fox Corporation, which retained the rightwing news network Fox News, Fox Business Network, and many television stations and sports broadcasting companies. Multiple former Trump White House and GOP officials joined the company, including Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, as chief communications officer and, later, former Wisconsin Republican and House Speaker Paul Ryan as a board member.
But Fox also hired another political figure: Danny O’Brien, a former top aide to Democratic former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden. From March 2003 to August 2006, O’Brien was then-Sen. Biden’s chief of staff. Two years later, he signed on as Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) chief of staff and then as the Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In late 2014 he left Congress for an executive-level government affairs job at General Electric.
In October 2018, Fox Corporation named O’Brien as its executive vice president and head of government relations, the company’s chief lobbying position. Over the past few years, Fox News and the Trump White House have enjoyed a well-oiled revolving door, but O’Brien’s hire doesn’t fit that pattern.
According to a lobbying report posted in late July, O’Brien began officially lobbying for Fox News in the second quarter of 2019, his first registered federal lobbying activities, according to Senate records. Along with two others, O’Brien lobbied Congress on various issues including online privacy and data collection, sports betting, advertising, the First Amendment, and “media ownership.”
O’Brien and his Fox colleagues are lobbying on several bills affecting television advertising, including several that impose requirements on prescription drug advertisers. One bill is H.R. 3327, the Drug Price Transparency for Medicare Patients Act of 2019, which requires “direct-to-consumer television advertisements for prescription drugs and biological products [to] include the list price of such drugs and products.” O’Brien lobbied on S. 73, the End Taxpayer Subsidies for Drug Ads Act, a bill sponsored by a number of Senate Democrats and independents that prohibits pharmaceutical companies from claiming “tax deductions for expenses relating to direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs.”
O’Brien lobbied on Democratic senator and presidential contender Amy Klobuchar’s Honest Ads Act, which expands the definition of political advertising, requires online political advertisers to disclose more identifying information in their ads, and enhances checks on political advertising by foreign entities. Another bill lobbied on by O’Brien is H.R. 896, the Fairness in Political Advertising Act of 2019, which would require “radio and television broadcasters to provide free broadcasting time for political advertising, and for other purposes.”
Fox News has been hyperpartisan for years, but it’s now become an uncompromising cheerleader for Donald Trump and his administration. The company dropped its “Fair and Balanced” slogan in 2017, and some, including media and think tank figures and even Fox News employees, have characterized it as a propaganda arm of the Trump White House. Now Biden, hoping to face Trump in the 2020 general election, has a former colleague atop Fox’s lobbying operation.
During Biden’s long career in Democratic establishment politics, he has hitched himself to countless lobbyists and wealthy donors, a pattern that continues today. His campaign and its fundraising operation are closely tied to these interests; for example, Biden’s first campaign fundraising event was hosted by telecom giant Comcast’s top lobbyist. Another Biden fundraiser heads a lobbying team that is fighting restrictions on foreign election influence. His handpicked climate adviser made $1.1 million from a board seat at liquefied natural gas company Cheniere Energy from 2014 to 2018. As of June 30, 62% of the Biden campaign’s individual donations were considered “large,” or over $200, in contrast to much smaller percentages of his top Democratic presidential rivals, Sens. Bernie Sanders (23% from large donors) and Elizabeth Warren (33%).
On Thursday, Biden is skipping an MSNBC climate forum to attend a fundraising lunch, which will cost attendees a minimum of $1,000. Those who want to host the event are required to donate the maximum allowed amount of $2,800 to the Biden campaign.