A U.S. Spanish-language news network that lobbied Hillary Clinton’s State Department on U.S. policies toward Mexico reported on those policies without disclosing its lobbying expenditures and is covering the U.S. presidential election without informing viewers of its company’s donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The network, Azteca America, has employed two Clinton confidantes since late 2008 to lobby the State Department on various initiatives affecting U.S. relations with Mexico, where its parent company is based, during and after Clinton’s tenure at the head of the agency.
Mexican parent TV Azteca, a foundation associated with the company, and that foundation’s U.S. counterpart have together donated as much as $375,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to its website.
The lack of disclosure comes amidst controversy surrounding ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, who recently came under fire for failing to disclose $75,000 in donations to the foundation, whose donors, recent reports have shown, also include dozens of other media organizations.
Azteca is a prominent broadcaster in Latino communities. It operates 16 stations around the country, including stations in nine of the country’s top ten Hispanic media markets, and has an additional 70 affiliate broadcasters.
Like competitors such as Univision and Telemundo, Azteca broadcasts stories of particular interest to Latinos. However, Azteca’s coverage occasionally bleeds into policy advocacy, according to the Fundacion Azteca America, its philanthropic arm.
"Azteca America donates screen time, its most valuable asset, to Fundación Azteca America in order to educate, fundraise and create awareness on important issues facing the Latino community in the United States," the Fundacion’s website says.
Among those issues is immigration reform, a Democratic Party priority.
"If you live in a congressional district or a state with a Republican congressman urge them to overcome bipartisan bickering and do what’s right and support comprehensive immigration reform," urges a Fundacion policy brochure.
While promoting policy change in its news content, the company is also lobbying U.S. lawmakers behind the scenes. Although many media companies work with the federal government on issues that affect their businesses, Azteca has pushed for a number of initiatives that have no direct bearing on its broadcasting work and has covered those initiatives without disclosing their lobbying work on those initiatives’ behalf.
Azteca hired the lobbying firm Ickes & Enright, itself a Clinton Foundation donor. Its principals, husband and wife Democratic powerbrokers Harold Ickes and Janice Enright, are long-time Clinton supporters, fundraisers, and aides.
Months before Azteca inked its contract, Ickes had helped run Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Two months after Clinton stepped down as secretary of state, he revealed that he was advising Ready for Hillary, a pro-Clinton super PAC. He sits on the board of Priorities USA, another super PAC backing Clinton’s presidential bid, and the Center for American Progress, a group expected to play a key role in crafting Clinton’s policy positions.
Ickes & Enright signed Azteca in August 2008. A year later, it signed its Mexican parent, TV Azteca. After Azteca began working with the Clinton Foundation in 2007, it enlisted Ickes & Enright to lobby Clinton’s State Department on smaller policy initiatives.
The firm, which did not respond to inquiries, reported lobbying the State Department on TV Azteca’s "business opportunities in the United States." For its American arm, it worked on policy initiatives affecting U.S.-Mexico cooperation.
Ickes & Enright began lobbying the State Department in April 2011 on the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (MALI), a project devised in part by the State Department and run by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation.
The U.S.-Mexico Foundation’s board includes a number of Clinton supporters. Henry Cisneros, a HUD Secretary under Bill Clinton and a five-figure Clinton Foundation donor who was pardoned by the former president after admitting to illicit payments to his former mistress, is a board member. Jose Villareal, a Clinton fundraiser and adviser to Clinton Foundation donor Akin Gump, is another.
Ickes & Enright was listed as a MALI donor while it discussed the initiative with State on Azteca’s behalf. A month after it began listing the initiative on lobbying disclosure forms, Clinton spoke at a MALI reception at the State Department’s headquarters.
The reception kicked off a MALI conference cosponsored by Grupo Salinas, the parent company of TV Azteca and all of its affiliates north and south of the border.
The following year, Ickes & Enright, on Azteca America’s behalf, began discussing another initiative, the Summit of the Americas, with officials at State and the White House. A year later, it was lobbying on a State-led effort called 100,000 Strong in the Americas.
According to Fundacion Azteca America literature, "Azteca America’s screen is the foundation’s most powerful tool to promote a positive change in the society."
The network’s advocacy for Fundacion policy objectives occasionally blurs the lines between its news operation and the policy goals of its philanthropic arm.
"This is the moment to make your voice heard," declared a short February segment featuring Patricia Arbulu, host of the Azteca show Entre Nos. "Finally, we can see the construction of what may turn out to be comprehensive immigration reform," Arbulu said, promoting the immigration policy advocacy of the Fundacion.
That kind of messaging can have a dramatic impact on the voting and policy preferences of the network’s viewers, according to Daniel Garza, executive director of the conservative LIBRE Initiative, a Latino outreach group.
"There is no question that Spanish-language television is a huge influence when it comes to policy priorities or setting the agenda of many in the Latino community," Garza said in an interview.
Azteca is also active in electoral politics, working to register Latino voters and encouraging them to vote. It restricts its advocacy to nonpartisan activities, but its partners in those efforts suggest that its interests lean Democratic.
During the 2014 election cycle, Azteca partnered with such Hispanic voter engagement groups as Voto Latino and Mi Familia Vota. Those two groups have run online and ground campaigns, respectively, for the Latino Victory Project, a group founded by DNC finance director Henry Muñoz and Obama campaign co-chair Eva Longoria. The Latino Victory Project has been criticized for blurring the lines between nonpartisan activities and political advocacy.
"It’s like a PAC with a TV studio is the danger we have here to the extent that we have a network that’s going into advocacy journalism on economic and immigration policy," said Ken Oliver-Mendez, director of the Media Research Center’s Latino journalism project.
Neither Azteca nor the Clinton Foundation responded to requests for comment.