Byron Allen reportedly courting Democrats to derail TV-station Tegna buyout
Media mogul Byron Allen appears to be courting major Democratic politicians once again as he attempts to stop a hedge fund’s acquisition of TV station giant Tegna, according to a prominent Beltway research firm.
The Department of Justice is within days of potentially clearing hedge fund Standard General’s $8.6 billion buyout of Tegna — a publicly traded chain of 64 local TV stations that was spun off in 2015 from newspaper giant Gannett.
Meanwhile Allen — who reportedly has been angling to nab Tegna’s nationwide broadcasting empire to widen the distribution of his own nascent cable channels — on Friday hosted an event at his Los Angeles home for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) and Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) with guests that also included Nancy Pelosi, according to Deadline Hollywood.
“We would not be surprised by a forthcoming letter from the … politicians [at the event] raising concerns regarding private equity firm Standard General’s purchase of Tegna to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel,” Washington Analysis, which advises institutional investors on DC policy, wrote in a note to clients last week that was reviewed by The Post.
If the DOJ approves the deal, which seems increasingly likely, it would then go to the FCC and Rosenworcel would decide whether to clear it, sources said.
“Any letter from the new Democrat House leadership would be designed to put further pressure on Rosenworcel to ‘pocket veto’ the transaction by failing to act,” the letter said.
A spokesperson for Allen responded in a written statement to The Post that “Mr. Allen did not speak to the Democratic Party leadership about Tegna” at the party.
“These assertions, implications, and predictions are blatantly false,” the spokesperson added. “Mr. Allen simply opened his home to introduce the new Democratic Party leadership to his fellow supporters of the Democratic Party.”
In an unusual move in October, Pelosi sent a letter to FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel expressing “serious concerns” about the deal to buy Tegna. The letter raised eyebrows as Pelosi does not weigh in on many mergers. Tegna doesn’t own any stations in her California district, and nor was the merger seen as having much national importance, sources said.
In the letter, Pelosi, along with Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr., said she was worried the deal would raise cable bills, crimp local news coverage and spur job losses.
In a written response to the FCC, Standard General denied plans to diminish local coverage and cut station jobs, calling them speculation and saying it “made a commitment in the FCC record that it was not planning any such actions.”
More recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Jan. 11 wrote to FCC Rosenworcel saying the Standard General merger will result in anticompetitive practices.
Former comedian Allen, whose Los Angeles-based Allen Media owns the Weather Channel, has become the “Forrest Gump” of the proposed merger, seemingly making an appearance at every turn of events in this deal’s cycle, Washington Analysis wrote.
“After his failure to obtain the necessary funds early on to purchase the assets himself, he is widely believed to have taken every opportunity available to take shots at Standard General’s superior offer,” Washington Analysis said.
Last year, Allen bundled $271,300 in campaign donations to Pelosi and gave an additional $275,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – which supports Democrat candidates for the House, The Post previously reported.
Allen has told The Post his “donations to numerous Democratic politicians and PACs which only began last year have nothing to do with Tegna and everything to do with protecting our democracy.”
Standard General is buying Tegna and getting financing from Apollo Global Management. The DOJ’s main question is whether Apollo will have any hand in Tegna management, sources said. Apollo owns the Cox Media Group and its 33 television stations and combining it and Tegna would be in violation of broadcast ownership rules, sources said.
DOJ Antitrust Chief Jonathan Kanter has recused himself from this merger review due to his being a partner at law firm Paul Weiss that represents Apollo from 2016 to 2020, sources said.
Cox is contributing its Boston station, Fox affiliate WFXT, to the holding company that is buying Tegna. Tegna was planning to take the higher rate WFXT charges cable distributors compared to Tegna and applying that higher “retransmission” rate to all its stations.
It is common practice for station owners to take its station that charges the most and using that top rate for all its stations. But Standard General has now agreed not to apply WFXT’s rate as a condition of getting its deal approved, sources said.
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