News Column

Lawmakers, Unions Oppose Tribune Sale to Koch Brothers

May 9, 2013

Patrick McGreevy, Chris Megerian

California legislative leaders and 10 public employee unions announced opposition Wednesday to any sale of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune Co. newspapers to a pair of wealthy brothers who fund conservative causes.

In a letter dated Tuesday to Bruce Karsh, president of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co., and chairman of its board of directors, the unions said David and Charles Koch are "anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-public education and anti-immigrant."

The unions noted that some Oaktree assets come from public pension funds and warned that a sale to the Koch brothers "would be adverse to the retirement security of public employees whose pension funds you are responsible for managing and investing."

The California Public Employee Retirement System is among the funds that invests with Oaktree. It has at least $200 million committed to the firm, according to pension fund records.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) added their opposition to that of the unions. The leaders and the unions have considerable sway over the investment of California's public pension money.

"I oppose it," Steinberg said of a possible sale. "I believe newspapers are a public trust. The Los Angeles Times has a long and respected tradition of community leadership and impartiality. The Koch brothers have a long and demonstrated history of a rigid political ideology."

A Tribune spokesman declined to comment.

Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Industries, said in an email that about 30% of the company's workforce --15,000 employees -- are represented by unions. She declined to say whether the company is seeking to buy The Times and other Tribune properties.

Tribune emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year under new ownership. It has been widely reported that the board is interested in selling The Times and the company's seven other newspapers.

The letter to Karsh was signed by labor leaders including Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation; Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor; LaPhonza Butler, president of the SEIU State Council; and Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters.

The unions said the Koch brothers promote policies that would hurt retirement security for workers.

"For those people whose retirement savings are invested in public pension funds," the letter said, a sale to the Koch brothers ... would be akin to agreeing to selling your car to a buyer who you know wants to buy the car so they can run you over."

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Source: Copyright Los Angeles Times 2013