Should journalists make political contributions?

A new study by the U.S.’s Center for Responsive Politics has found that over 200 people identifying themselves as journalists or working for news organizations have donated nearly $470,000 to political candidates (65% to Democrats) during the 2010 election cycle.

The list of contributors can be downloaded from the centre’s OpenSecrets blog, which notes that the names include “People identifying themselves as working for hard news outlets such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New York Post, News Corp., Vanity Fair and Reuters are among the listed donors. Also listed are employees from outlets offering lighter fare — ESPN, Vogue — or community news. Some have donated thousands of dollars.”  

Some big players include Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who donated more than $32,000 to political campaigns, and ESPN executive producer Maura Mandt, who donated more than $30,000. The lists includes publishers, editors, reporters and radio and TV hosts.

Most major news outlets have specific guidelines that prohibit “political advocacy”, including volunteering for politically-charged campaigns or organizations, donating money to campaigns or candidates and running for public office.

The Los Angeles Times policy, for instance, informs staff members to avoid public expressions of political views, i.e. bumper stickers and lawn signs. It also warns employees that outside affliations and memberships may create “real or apparent” ethical conflicts. (No Times employees were listed among the donors).

The Society of Professional Journalists’ conduct code says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.”

OpenSecrets writes:

“Paul Tharp, a business reporter for the New York Post, last year donated $750 to Rep. Michael McMahon  (D-N.Y.), the Center’s analysis of Federal Election Commission records show. Tharp said his two donations represent a “satisfaction with [McMahon’s] public service” and his work with the arts.

“Just because I am a reporter doesn’t mean I give up my rights,” Tharp said. “I have an interest in public service, but not politics. I cover business.””