“Seems illegal”: Experts say Murdoch could face FEC fine if he funneled secret info to Kushner

Fox boss sharing confidential info with Trump son-in-law could violate federal campaign finance laws

Published March 3, 2023 12:37PM (EST)

Rupert Murdoch and Jared Kushner (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rupert Murdoch and Jared Kushner (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch could potentially face financial penalties from the Federal Election Commission if the allegations that he shared confidential information with former White House advisor Jared Kushner are true. 

A recent court filing in Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News alleged that Murdoch provided former-President Donald Trump's son-in-law with information about then-candidate Joe Biden's television ads. 

"During Trump's campaign, Rupert provided Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden's ads, along with debate strategy (providing Kushner a preview of Biden's ads before they were public)," the Dominion filing states. 

Murdoch and Kushner communicated during the 2020 campaign and on election night. In his deposition, Murdoch discussed how Kushner reached out to him after the network called Arizona for President Biden.

"My friend Jared Kushner called me saying, 'This is terrible,' and I could hear Trump's voice in the background shouting," he said, according to the filing. "And I said, 'Well, the numbers are the numbers.'"

The allegations from Dominion cite Murdoch's deposition, as well as internal communications from Fox obtained during the discovery process, which are still sealed. 

Campaign finance and ethics experts say that if the allegation is proven true, the information that Murdoch provided to Kushner would be considered an unreported "in-kind" contribution.

"Non-monetary goods or services, including non-public opposition research, provided to a candidate free of charge or at a discount for campaign purposes is defined under the campaign finance law as an in-kind contribution, subject to the reporting requirements and contribution limits," Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, told Insider

"If the allegations are true, this is precisely what Murdoch provided to the Trump campaign," he explained.

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"If Fox News gave Jared Kushner confidential information that could have helped the Trump campaign during the presidential election, that may have been an in-kind contribution that needed to be declared to the Federal Election Commission," wrote Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"From a campaign finance law perspective, a corporation or its agents would be breaking the law if they were to give anything of value – including intangible things like information – to a campaign or its agents in connection with an election," Saurav Ghosh, the director for federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, told Insider.

Ghosh added that they don't currently have enough information to determine whether that's what happened here, but "if a corporate agent passed nonpublic information to a campaign agent, that would likely be considered an illegal in-kind contribution, warranting an investigation and possible enforcement to uphold the law and protect our elections."

A press officer with the FEC declined to comment on the allegations but told Insider that if they find a violation occurred, "possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a conciliation agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty."

Fox Corp. did not comment on the Insider report but has previously denied any wrongdoing in response to Dominion's lawsuit and accused the company of cherry-picking evidence in filings to smear the network.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., wrote that Murdoch's actions "seem illegal."

"At the very least, it would appear to be a campaign contribution of significant value, well over federal campaign limits," he wrote on Twitter.

Corporate expenditures by a press entity do not count under the so-called "media exemption" if the press is engaging in normal functions, such as providing commentary or reporting on the news, Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA, wrote at his Election Law Blog.

Assuming the allegations in Dominion's complaint are true, Hasen wrote, "sharing one candidate's ads that have not aired with a competing candidate does not appear to be part of any press function."

"The ads were not shared for the purpose of newsgathering or opinion writing," he explained. "They appear to be outside the context of the media exemption, and potentially illegal."

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

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Aggregate Fox News Jared Kushner Politics Rupert Murdoch