Colorado Publishers Ante Up for Candidates

Most newsrooms — print and broadcast — prohibit donations to political causes in their ethics policies.

Last week, MSNBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman lit things up for more than 100 journalists around the country who’ve donated to federal politicians or political causes. Most of them donated to Democrats and liberal causes, reinforcing the stereotype of the “liberal media.” No Coloradans show up on Dedman’s list.

Columnist Eric Black, elsewhere on Colorado Confidential today, argues that most journalists are liberal. But that’s not necessarily so when it comes to their big bosses.

Dedman didn’t include publishers and other media executives in his analysis, saying they’re typically exempt from newsroom ethics policies.

But print publishers and media executives often play a crucial role in the newsroom during election years — they often determine who gets a newspaper’s endorsement. For instance, in 2004, Denver Post Publisher William Dean Singleton overrode the Post’s editorial board’s preference for John Kerry, forcing the board to endorse President Bush’s reelection bid. Federal Election Commission records indicate Singleton donated $1,000 to Bush in 1999 and $2,000 in 2003. (Singleton did allow editorial board members to write columns advocating Kerry.)

Singleton isn’t the only Colorado newspaper owner and publisher who ponied up to the pols. Although he’s the state’s largest media mogul as CEO of Media News Group, he isn’t the biggest donor to federal candidates and campaigns. Edward Lehman, chairman of Lehman Communications and publisher of the Longmont Times-Call and other newspapers, is the true heavy hitter, donating more than $73,000 to GOP causes since January 2004.

Keep reading for Colorado Confidential’s research into such donations…In all, eight publishers or executives of daily Colorado newspapers gave a total of $115,490 to federal candidates, political parties and political action committees from January 2004 through March of this year, based on a search of the Federal Election Commission’s Web site. Of that, 86 percent went to Republican causes.

But that’s because Lehman kicked in 63 percent of the total, all going to GOP efforts. Lehman is the chairman and patriarch of Longmont-based Lehman Communications, which owns the Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter Herald, the Canon City Daily Record and some small weekly newspapers. The newspapers are known for a conservative editorial stance. On election nights, the Lehman family often hosts a party for local Republican candidates at the Times-Call.

John Thune’s successful U.S. Senate upset of then-minority leader Tom Daschle was among Lehman’s causes. Thune’s race was managed by Dick Wadhams, now chairman of the Colorado GOP.

Lehman doesn’t see much trouble with publishers — or even other employees at his newspapers — donating to political causes. While most newspapers prohibit contributions in an effort to avoid even the appearance of political favoritism, his newspapers don’t have such an ethics provision.

“It’s still a free country. I don’t think it’s that important at papers of our size,” Lehman told Colorado Confidential. “I’m not an activist, I’m a Republican.”

And Lehman doesn’t consider his donations all that big-time — he’s no Bush Ranger, for sure. “We’ve given money to some Democrats, too,” he said, mostly at the state level.

As for editorial influence, Lehman said he doesn’t sit on his newspapers’ editorial boards. But, he added, “I make a suggestion here and there.” And, he admitted, those suggestions are taken.

Here’s a look at Lehman’s donations:

Three of Lehman’s family members also donated to political candidates and causes, but in lesser amounts. And one, Lauren Lehman, the chief financial officer of the newspaper company, gave $250 to a Democrat in 2006 — Jay Fawcett, who ran for the 5th Congressional Seat won by Republican Doug Lamborn.

Another big giver among Colorado publishers is Robert Rawlings, owner of the Pueblo Chieftain. He anted up a total of $23,410, with 57 percent going to the GOP and 43 percent to Democrats. All the money on the Democratic side went to U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and his brother, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, both of whom hail from the Chieftain’s coverage are in the San Luis Valley.

Here’s a look at the totals for all publisher’s donations:

The Post’s Singleton has made only one donation during the time period – could it be a sign? The cash: $1,000 to presidential candidate and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

For a full list of the donations and a methodology explanation, click here.

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