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A handful of Democrats in Congress have Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. in their cross hairs.
Although Democrats in particular may have a bone to pick with the media conglomerate that counts Fox News among its holdings, recent allegations against the company have also gotten the attention of at least one prominent Republican.
Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) has joined Democrats including Sens. Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) to call for an investigation into allegations of bribery and invasion of privacy by News Corp. employees in the United Kingdom.
King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is particularly concerned about accusations that reporters from News Corp.’s News of the World newspaper bribed British law enforcement officials to obtain phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He wrote to FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday to request a probe.
“It is revolting to imagine that members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in the pursuit of yellow journalism,” he wrote.
“The 9/11 families have suffered egregiously, but unfortunately they remain vulnerable against such unjustifiable parasitic strains,” added King, whose Long Island-based district lost 150 residents to the terrorist attacks. “We can spare no effort or expense in continuing our support for them.”
King appeared to be the lone GOP voice to go after News Corp. on Wednesday, but the scandal exploding around the media company has drawn the attention of Members on both sides of the Capitol. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith called the allegations of bribery and phone hacking “troubling” in a statement, but the Texas Republican stopped short of requesting an investigation.
“I am confident that the Justice Department is following this issue closely and will take necessary actions if they believe U.S. laws were violated,” Smith said.
Judiciary ranking member John Conyers said he was undecided about how to move forward on the issue, but he promised to take action in some form.
“I don’t know what I want; we’ve got to investigate first,” the Michigan Democrat said when asked whether he wants Murdoch to testify before his committee. “But the House Judiciary Committee is the perfect place for violations of federal law.”
Senate Democrats have likewise stopped short of calling for Murdoch to make a trip to Capitol Hill, but there is a growing movement demanding that federal law enforcement agencies look into the matter, which is already the subject of investigations by the British Parliament.
Among other allegations, journalists at News Corp.’s Sunday Times of London and the Sun are accused of hacking into former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s voice mail, bank account, legal files and family medical records.
Lautenberg noted that the company, which is based in New York, could be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars domestic companies from bribing foreign entities for business. “The limited information already reported in this case raises serious questions about the legality of the conduct of News Corporation and its subsidiaries under the FCPA,” the New Jersey Democrat wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Further investigation may reveal that current reports only scratch the surface of the problem at News Corporation,” Lautenberg added, requesting that both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission look in to whether the media company violated any U.S. laws.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also sent a letter to Holder on Wednesday. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, joined together in their requests to Holder and SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro. Each of the Senators’ letters mentioned the 9/11 allegations.
News Corp. counts the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Co. and Fox Broadcasting Co. among its holdings. The troubled media company scrapped plans to take over British Sky Broadcasting and shut down News of the World because of allegations surrounding its journalists’ information-gathering methods.
News Corp. and its subsidiary News America spent $5.3 million last year lobbying the U.S. government on issues that included legislation that would limit the volume of televised advertisements and a proposed statute that sought to compel individuals connected to the news media to disclose certain information, according to OpenSecrets.org data.
News America shouldered the bulk of these expenses, spending more than $4 million on its internal lobbyists and $480,000 on K Street lobbyists that included Bockorny Group, Hogan Lovells, David Leach and Temple Strategies.
News Corp. wrote checks totaling $680,000 to shops that included the Fritts Group, Glover Park Group, Cormac Group, Feehery Group and Quinn Gillespie & Associates, according to OpenSecrets.org data.
If the company is the subject of a major investigation, it would likely have to retain additional counsel in Washington, as the majority of its advocacy work is done by standard lobbying groups and not hybrid lobby-law firms with a white-collar or government investigations practice.
Amanda Becker contributed to this report.
Correction: July 14, 2011
An earlier version of the article erroneously stated that Hughes Network Systems is a subsidiary of News Corp., which it no longer is. Additionally, News Corp. and News America spent $5.3 million lobbying the U.S. government last year, not $5.68 million.