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Is Fox Funding the Kerry Campaign? You Decide

Several of the Democratic strategists hired last week to help turn around the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) share a peculiar financial backer. Before accepting official positions to help defeat President Bush, the Democrats or their consulting firms were on the payroll of media giant News Corp.

[IMGCAP(1)]That’s right — the Rupert Murdoch-owned company that Democrats love to hate because of its allegedly anti-Democratic bias.

Earlier this year, News Corp. hired Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson to head an aggressive campaign to block Nielsen Media Research from changing the television ratings system in way that reduced viewership for Fox and its affiliate, UPN.

Wolfson and his public relations firm, Glover Park Group, ran a lobbying, advertising and grassroots campaign designed to persuade black and Hispanic lawmakers to pressure Nielsen to scrap the new ratings system.

Last week, Wolfson and partner Joe Lockhart took temporary leave from the Glover Park Group to help out the Kerry campaign. Wolfson joined the Democratic National Party as a senior adviser for communications while Lockhart, a White House spokesman for then-President Bill Clinton, agreed to help strengthen the rapid-response communications for the Kerry campaign.

During its battle with Nielsen, News Corp. brought on two other firms run by Democrats who have recently signed up with the Kerry effort: Dewey Square

Group, a public relations firm founded by Democratic consultant Michael Whouley, and Grassroots Enterprises, which is chaired by former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry.

Last week, Whouley was tapped to run the general election operations for the Democratic National Party and McCurry agreed to help Kerry negotiate the format for this fall’s presidential debates.

Corporate PACs Balloon. With soft money banned by campaign finance legislation, several corporations have dramatically increased their political donations to Congressional candidates by re-energizing their hard-dollar political action committees.

UBS Americas leads the pack among large corporations, according to information compiled by the nonpartisan PoliticalMoneyLine.

Through the first 17 months of the election cycle, the financial services company has increased its PAC’s war chest nearly fourfold, to $600,000.

Among other big gainers: Clear Channel Communications has tripled the size of its PAC to $483,000; law firm Piper Rudnick has expanded its PAC by $500,000 to $800,000; and cable giant Comcast has nearly doubled its PAC to $524,000.

Overall, PoliticalMoneyLine found that corporate PACs have handed out $80 million to federal candidates through June 30 of this year.

Two-thirds of that total has gone to Republican candidates. Wal-Mart gave 80 percent of $1.5 million to the GOP, while United Parcel Service gave 75 percent of its $1.6 million, and SBC Communications turned more than 68 percent of its $1.4 million to Republicans.

Bad Tomatoes. The growers of the “Uglyripe” tomato were on Capitol Hill last week to hand out some of their fruits and throw some rhetorical tomatoes at their competitors in the Florida tomato market.

The Procacci Brothers, a company that sells the extra juicy, beefsteak-style Uglyripe tomato, came to Washington to ask lawmakers to help lift a ban on exporting the Uglyripe from Florida in the winter months.

Piggybacking on Wednesday’s Fresh Festival, sponsored by the United Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Procacci Brothers handed out their tomatoes to lawmakers and aides and explained their problem: A board of Florida tomato growers has made the Uglyripe a forbidden fruit by banning its export from Florida because the tomato is not perfectly round and smooth.

Procacci Brothers officials charge that other Florida tomato growers have banned export of the Uglyripe to protect their markets.

“It’s pure jealously,” said David Sheon, a Washington public relations expert hired by the company.

A 1937 law allows certain states to set up boards of growers who set the standards for products that are allowed to be shipped out of state.

The Procacci Brothers hopes members of the Florida delegation will pressure the Agriculture Department to veto the Florida board’s decision.

K Street Moves … Christina Martin, a former press secretary for then-Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.), has been hired by public relations giant Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick to serve as executive vice president.

Martin comes to Powell Tate from the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, were she had been senior vice president for public affairs for five years after leaving when Gingrich resigned as Speaker.

A Kansas native, Martin has also worked for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and former President George H.W. Bush.

Also: Dan Boston has left Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz to join Health Policy Source. Boston, a former health care aide on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joins Monica Tencate, who founded the firm two-and-a-half years ago. … AT&T lobbyist Mary Arnold has left to run the Congressional affairs office for software-maker SAP America. Arnold, a former Republican Senate aide, has more than 20 years of government affairs experience. … Travis Larson has left the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association to handle media affairs in Washington for Clear Channel Communications. Larson, who once worked on the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), will focus on legislation affecting media and entertainment. Larson is the latest of a half-dozen young lobbyists hired by Clear Channel in the past year. …

Ron Platt, a high-ranking lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig, has joined Buchanan Ingersoll as director of the firm’s government relations office. … Former Democratic National Party Chairman Joe Andrew has joined the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rossenthal after leaving McDermott Will & Emery. Andrew comes to the firm a few months after it picked up Frederick McClure, a Republican with close ties to President Bush. … John Czwartacki, a former spokesman to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), has moved to a new position at Verizon Communications. He now will serve as executive director for external communications. … Jonathan Collegio has left Americans for Tax Reform to become press secretary for Goli Ameri, a Republican who is challenging Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.). …

Mehlman & Vogel, the public affairs firm founded earlier this year by Bruce Mehlman and Alex Vogel — both prominent Republicans — has made its first hire, and it’s a Democrat. Karin Hudson, a lobbyist, once worked for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). … The Business Roundtable has tapped three prominent CEOs to head a trio of task forces. FedEx CEO Frederick Smith will lead the security task force; DuPont’s Chad Holliday will run the environment, technology and economy task force; and Michael McCallister, CEO of Humana, will oversee the task force on health and retirement. … Heather Gold, formerly head of the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, will take over the top lobbying job at XO Communications. …

George Wolfe has returned to Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough to manage the law firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Wolfe had served for three years in the Bush administration as deputy general counsel, acting general counsel, and counselor to the Secretary at the Department of the Treasury. During 2003 and 2004, he served two tours in the senior leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Prior to joining the Bush administration, he was a partner with Nelson Mullins in Columbia, S.C.