August 17, 2010; Source: Politico | In a typically balanced report on the surprising $1 million contribution by Rupert Murdoch’s New Corp. to the Republican Governors Association, Politico points out that the political contributions of the firm that owns both Fox News and the Wall Street Journal (and Twentieth Century Fox and HarperCollins) are usually a little more balanced.

The News Corp. made it clear that the donation to the RGA is because of RGA’s pro-business agenda (including issues regarding cable TV regulation), though in the past, both News Corp. and Murdoch (and many News Corp. employees) have supported both political parties and candidates including Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, although Fox News has long pummeled Clinton and Reid in its coverage. What distinguishes this contribution is its size, dwarfing the numbers that Politico came up with on past contributions by Disney, Time Warner, CBS, and until now the News Corp. itself.

We’re always interested to ask how corporations’ political contributions compare with their charitable activities. At News Corp., the corporate contributions are a little hard to track. The Foundation Directory Online reveals a 2010 grant of $250,000 split between the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army for Haiti earthquake relief. We also found a 2005 press release pledging $1 million to the Sallies for Hurricane Katrina relief and up to another $1 million to match donations from News Corp. employees.

The firm’s high profile charitable activity is “Idol Gives Back,” which raised $45 million for charities including the Children’s Health Fund, Feeding America, Malaria No More, Save the Children’s U.S. Programs and the United Nations Foundation with “special appearances” by the President and First Lady and Bill and Melinda Gates (the Gates Foundation was the event’s official “not-for-profit partner”).

Murdoch and his family are billionaires several times over, their personal contributions are private, but they do have a family foundation—the Murdoch Foundation—which is capitalized by contributions from various family trusts. Despite unimaginable wealth (the Murdoch Family Trust owned 363 million shares of News Corp. stock as of last year’s proxy statement in August 2009 and Murdoch himself owned another 339 million shares, [PDF], the Foundation is a small giver, usually giving only a handful of grants in the years that it decides to give.

Its most consistent grant recipient is the Harvard Lampoon (son James is on the Lampoon board)—$50,000 a year from 2006 to 2008 though $75,000 in 2005. Someone in the foundation likes the environment, as the Nature Conservancy received $150,000 during that period. But its RGA-sized grants go to religion and education: $996,500 in 2007 and $920,000 in 2006 to Americans for Oxford, $500,000 in 2007 to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (in Los Angeles), $191,500 in 2006 to the venerable National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (in London), and a whopping $3,330,000 to the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in 2005.

Is there a connection between the political donation to the RGA, the corporate donations for disaster relief, and the Murdoch Foundation’s grants to churches and universities? Add in Murdoch’s fundraiser for then-senator Hillary Clinton, and you have a picture of a corporate tycoon who uses all of his resources to fulfill his personal agendas, with little concern about ideology or appearance.

There’s no debate about Murdoch’s conservative politics, but his political and philanthropic giving may be, in Politico’s words, “more concerned with making money than influencing political outcomes,” as shocking as that might be about the man who gave cable television Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.—Rick Cohen