Politics

Top Music Execs & Their Employees Aren't Donating to the Same Political Candidates

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While music industry masses spent more on Democrats this year, billionaire titans are pumping millions into Super PACs for Trump.

The owners of some of the biggest companies in music and their employees are further apart politically than they have ever been in the past.

While the ownership of companies like Madison Square Garden and Liberty Media have continued to spend millions of dollars supporting Republican causes like President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and Republican candidates for House and Senate races, the employees of those companies are turning toward Democratic candidates, especially presidential challenger Joe Biden, in record numbers.

Phil Anschutz, who owns AEG, and his family do not support Trump financially but spent $1.3 million supporting the re-election of Senate Republicans. Meanwhile, the company’s chairman and chief executive Jay Marciano gave more than $27,000 to Democratic causes including the Biden campaign. Employees of AEG made over 1,700 donations totaling $91,726 to Democrats. That’s a 6% increase over 2016 when employees spent $86,447 to back Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, according to data compiled by Billboard from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and OpenSecrets.org, a website tracking political donations created by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“I don’t love that [Phil] supports all these right wing causes, but his political beliefs are so far detached from the work we do and our company values,” explains one high ranking executive, who notes that despite being very conservative, Anschutz supports LGBT causes and has given millions to groups some describe as being left of center.

Employees at Liberty Media, which owns SiriusXM, Pandora and a 35% stake in Live Nation, for the first time ever have given more money to Democratic candidates than Republican ones. In 2020, individuals at the company gave $209,374 to Democrats and $92,485 to Republicans -- more than a 2-1 margin. Back in 2016, Democrats only received $134,636 while $385,700 was spent on Republican candidates, while in 2012, only $12,500 was spent on Democrats with $355,596 going to the GOP.

The candidate who received the most money from Liberty employees in 2020 was U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper, the former Democratic governor of Colorado who received $94,814. Greg Maffei, Liberty’s chief executive, also supported Hickenlooper, but for a different race. Maffei donated $100,000 to Shared Purpose, a Super PAC that supported Hickenlooper's failed bid for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential campaign. Liberty employees, on the other hand, donated almost exclusively to Hickenlooper’s subsequent campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who has received $11,200 from Maffei.

In fact, Maffei has spent $73,000 trying to keep the Senate in Republican control. Democrats would need to pick up three seats to win control of the chamber if Biden wins the White House, a scenario that would split the Senate 50-50 with potential vice president Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote.

In addition to supporting different candidates, Liberty employees and their bosses also use different methods of giving. Maffei and Malone pump hundreds of thousands into Republican coffers through loosely regulated political committees and super PACS, while nearly all employee donations are made directly to the campaigns of Democrats, usually in the form of small donations.

Direct donations are far more heavily regulated and capped at $5,600 per candidate ($2,800 in the primary contest and $2,800 in a general election). The employees at James Dolan's Madison Square Garden overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates with about 1,000 donations to their campaigns -- versus only 50 to Republican candidates — totaling $27,000 to Dems like Biden for an average donation of $27. (Neither AEG nor Liberty commented for this article. MSG released a statement to Billboard noting, "Mr. Dolan's contributions to Trump are a matter of public record.")

“We’re seeing the volume of small donations continue to grow each election cycle partially because it’s easy for someone to donate to a candidate through their phone while watching TV,” says Brendan Quinn, spokesperson for OpenSecrets.org.

While Dolan, MSG's billionaire owner and chairman, is bound by the same restrictions on how much he can donate directly to Trump, he was able to make additional direct contributions of $745,000 ($387,000 in 2015 and 2016) to campaign committees, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling McCutcheon v. FEC, which removed caps on how much wealthy individuals could give directly to joint fundraising committees.

Another landmark ruling was 2010’s Citizens United v FEC, which paved the way for Super PACs to allow unlimited donations to independent groups working on behalf of candidates. Dolan, Maffei and Liberty Media chairman John Malone have all donated to Super PACs. This cycle, MSG gave $500,000 to a PAC called No Labels, which supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Malone gave $1 million to the 1820 PAC, which supports Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ re-election bid in Maine. As a company, Liberty donated $50,000 to a group called Strength is Security.

Other political contributions made by music industry billionaires don’t neatly fit into any one category and include donations given in January 2017 to support Trump's inauguration. Records from OpenSecrets show that Warner Music Group owner Len Blatavik gave Trump’s inauguration committee $1 million through his company Access Industries, as did Madison Square Garden. Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who built the $5 billion SoFi Stadium next to the Forum in Inglewood, California, also gave the committee $1 million. Both Malone and Maffei from Liberty Media gave the committee $250,000 each. Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp, which owns the Venetian Hotel and the Las Vegas Review Journal, gave the inaugural committee the largest individual donation of $5 million.

“We have found that some people simply won’t work at a company if they find out how their employer makes political donations, while others will hesitantly join the company but be cautious in donating,” said Quinn of OpenSecrets. “It depends on how the economy is doing and right now, there’s not much work available so political considerations are usually at the bottom of people’s lists.”

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