Public Television Corrupted With Billionaire Bucks

Former Enron trader John Arnold slipped WNET millions to air a PBS anti-pension series, but he wasn't alone.
Public Television Corrupted With Billionaire Bucks

Until recently, public broadcasting was the one safe haven from Billionaire Bucks, but that's no longer true, as David Sirota reports:

In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs,ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.

Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).

To the contrary, the Arnold Foundation spokesperson tells Pando that it was PBS officials who first initiated contact with Arnold in the Spring of 2013. She says those officials actively solicited Arnold to finance the broadcaster’s proposal for a new pension-focused series. According to the spokesperson, they solicited Arnold’s support based specifically on their knowledge of his push to slash pension benefits for public employees.

You might wonder why public broadcasters would pitch and produce a series targeting public pensions. You might wonder, that is, until you have a look at WNET's IRS return, where you would find the name "David H. Koch" listed as one of the Board of Trustees.

It also didn't hurt that WNET received a $3.5 million donation from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. LJAF's president Denis Calabrese is political consultant to the State Policy Network, ALEC, and has close ties to the Kochs and related foundations like American Majority and the Sam Adams Alliance.

After Sirota's exposé, WNET announced they would return the Arnolds' contribution. But bells cannot be unrung. This series is airing on PBS stations across the country under the guise of being "programming in the public interest." They'll make up that big contribution with money from other billionaires, and David Koch will continue to be a trustee of the flagship PBS station in the country.


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It isn't just David Koch, either. WNET's Board of Trustee reads like a laundry list of the top Forbes 400 hedge fund managers. How is it that they can possibly decide what programming is in the public interest?

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