Top Lobbyist for ABC News Is a Major Democratic Donor, Former DCCC Director

Employees, CEO of parent company (Disney) donate overwhelmingly to Democrats

Clinton Foundation donor George Stephanopoulos. (AP)
May 21, 2015

The top lobbyist for the Walt Disney Company, parent company of ABC News, is a major Democratic donor who formerly worked as executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Richard Bates has worked for Disney since 1991, when he helped launch the company’s Washington, D.C., government relations office. Prior to that, he was executive director of the DCCC under the chairmanship of Rep. Beryl Anthony (D., Ark.), a political ally of then-Governor Bill Clinton. (Anthony’s wife would go on to work in the Clinton administration.) Anthony was also considered a reliable ally of Washington lobbyists. "Whenever a business lobbyist wanted a favor wanted a favor, he often thought of Beryl first. And Anthony rarely said no," former Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Birnbaum wrote in his 1993 book, The Lobbyists: How Influence Peddlers Work Their Way in Washington.

Bates has been running Disney’s government relations operation since 2010, when he was promoted to senior vice president of government relations. The company has spent nearly $70 million lobbying the federal government since 1998, records show. Bates’ duties include lobbying members of Congress to support the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Bates is also treasurer of Disney’s political action committee, which has donated $637,000 to Democrats since 2008, about $70,000 more than it has given to Republicans.

Bates’ personal political donations have gone almost exclusively to Democratic candidates and committees. He has contributed more than $64,000 to Democrats since joining Disney in 1991, and just $2,000 to Republican candidates. Bates has given money to Bill Clinton ($1,000), Hillary Clinton ($2,750), the DCCC ($4,250), the DSCC ($500), and the Democratic National Committee ($1,000).

Bates' donation are typical of Disney/ABC News employees, who have collectively donated almost $3.4 million to Democratic candidates and committees since 2000, almost double the amount given to Republicans. The top five recipients of Disney employee contributions in the current cycle are the DCCC ($166,300), the DSCC ($100,178), EMILY’s List ($100,000), the DNC ($76,600), Democratic Senator Cory Booker ($37,200), and Ready for Hillary ($30,000).

When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate in 2000, she was by far the top recipient of Disney employee contributions. Clinton received more than $70,000 worth of donations, which was more than double that of the second largest recipient (Al Gore). Disney employees gave more than $22,000 to Clinton’s reelection effort in 2006, and more than $94,000 to her presidential campaign in 2008. (Barack Obama received $474,000, compared to John McCain’s $27,000.) Disney employees favored Obama over Mitt Romney by a margin of nearly eight-to-one in 2012.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has also donated massive sums to political candidates and committees, almost all of them on the Democratic side. Iger has given more than $407,000 to Democrats since 1999, and contributed $5,200 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns.

Disney subsidiary ABC News has come under increased scrutiny following the revelation that its chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton operative, failed to disclose his $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation during his coverage of the many controversies surrounding the charitable organization run by his former boss. Heather Riley, the ABC News spokeswoman who repeatedly told reporters the network was standing behind Stephanopoulos despite his failure to comply ABC News policy, also worked in the Clinton administration.