Liberal billionaire with ties to Clintons, John Podesta joint top bidder for Tribune Publishing

on Apr13
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A Swiss billionaire with a history of left-wing and environmental activism is one of two top bidders for Tribune Publishing, the Chicago-based media conglomerate.

Hansjörg Wyss, 85, the founder of Switzerland- and West Chester, Pa.-based medical device manufacturer Synthes Holding AG, has partnered in his bid with Stewart Bainum Jr., a former Maryland Democratic state lawmaker and the chairman of Choice Hotels. 

Wyss sold Synthes to Johnson & Johnson in 2012 for more than $20 billion.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Tribune reached a nonbinding agreement in February with its largest shareholder, Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund that also owns several newspapers through a subsidiary. However, the company’s special committee handling the sale has touted the Wyss-Bainum bid as a “superior proposal.”

Wyss is not the first politically-active figure seeking a slice of Tribune’s business. In 2013, libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch looked into buying the company, leading to opposition from unions, reporters and figures within the Democratic Party.

Scott Walter, the president of a conservative watchdog group, told the Times that while it is fair for political critics of the Kochs to have been concerned about their potential takeover of some newspapers, there should be equal concern about Wyss’ bid.

Wyss has for years donated large sums for the advancement of progressive political policy, as well as hundreds of millions for natural conservation in the American West. The billionaire owns a home in Wyoming.

A 2013 release from the Clinton Foundation publicly thanked Wyss for a $5 million donation for its “No Ceilings” women’s rights initiative led by Hillary Clinton.

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Wyss also sits on the board of directors of the left-wing Center For American Progress, founded by longtime Clinton confidant and 2016 presidential campaign chairman John Podesta.

Other board members include former Stacey Abrams, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

Wyss’ eponymous foundation is also a top contributor to the Hub Project, a group committed to supporting progressive causes, Politico reported.

According to The Times, The Hub Project was involved in paid political advertising targeting GOP candidates in recent elections, as well as calling for then-President Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Some of the Hub Project’s business activities were revealed in documents stolen from Podesta’s email and released by Wikileaks during the 2016 election campaign.

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A prominent link on the Hub Project’s webpage leads to a commentary on why “a more equitable economy begins with taxing the rich.”

The Daily Caller reported at the time that Wyss was named as “Person Number 7” in a 2009 indictment surrounding illegal human trials of an untested bone cement for vertebrae.

Three former Synthes executives were sentenced to prison in 2011 for their role in the scheme, with Philadelphia Federal Judge Legrome Davis calling out “a real failure in this particular corporate culture… as to the recognition of responsibility.”

Citizens United had sought to find whether politics played any role in the case’s settlement, according to its chairman, David Bossie:

“For years, we’ve seen partisan politics infiltrate the Obama Department of Justice. Hansjorg Wyss is a major supporter of liberal causes, including a $5 million contributor to the Clinton Foundation,” Bossie told the Daily Caller.

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Wyss told the Baltimore Sun — one of Tribune Publishing’s newspapers — that if awarded the bid, he pledged to be a fair guardian of the printed press:

“I don’t want to see another newspaper that has a chance to increase the amount of truth being told to the American people going down the drain,” Wyss said.

Tribune owns several papers other than its Chicago namesake, including the Sun, the New York Daily News, the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call, the Hartford Courant, and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.



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