Written by Bill Berkowitz
He is a billionaire several times over, a supporter of conservative causes, candidates, and organizations, including campaigns of the anti-immigrant former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and the Intelligent Design-peddling Discovery Institute, and he has been a backer of anti-gay rights initiatives. He owns The Weekly Standard, a highly partisan conservative magazine, and recently sold the conservative Examiner newspapers. He rarely speaks to the press.
He’s out to transform the culture: “Hollywood as an industry can at times be insular and doesn’t at times understand the market very well,” he told an audience at the conservative Hillsdale College in 2004. I “saw a chance with this move to attempt some small improvement in the culture.”
After devoting years of building a massive Disneyesque entertainment complex in Los Angeles called L.A. Live – which tapped into tens of millions of government dollars — he now has his eyes on building a $1 billion stadium in L.A. and securing a National Football League team for the city. He’s also been putting the finishing touches on a deal that would have his company running the Coliseum complex in Oakland, California.
The last time he made anything other than the business news was when it was revealed that his company had forged a partnership with Michael Jackson to promote the “King of Pop’s” series of comeback concerts. That was just before Jackson died of a drug overdose.
He is also an avid collector of art of the American West. Xanterra, one of his companies, manages lodges in many national parks. He’s developing a wind farm that could boast 1,000 turbines on his own land.
Another of his companies – which has projects in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming – has recently been banned from fracking in a small town in New York State.
He is a native Kansan, and although he’s not related to the multi-billionaire Kansas Koch Brothers, he certainly shares many of their interests.
We’re talking Philip Anschutz, who, in 1999, was labeled the nation’s “greediest executive” by Fortune magazine.
The Anschutz fortune
As of March of this year, Anschutz’s net worth was $7 billion, placing him #133 on the list of Forbes billionaires and #39 on the Forbes 400 list. Forbes pointed out that Anschutz “has made fortunes in oil, railroads and telecom, but his biggest bets are in entertainment. Through … AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group], he operates dozens of the world’s greatest concert venues, including the Staples Center and Nokia Theater in L.A., London’s O2, and Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena.” Anschutz also owns Regal Entertainment Group, the largest movie theater chain in the world.
AEG “controls sports teams like the NBA’s Lakers, the NHL’s Kings and the L.A. Galaxy soccer team. His music division manages pop stars including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift and the Black Eyed Peas. His film division has produced the Chronicles of Narnia series,” Forbes noted.
Forbes also reported that AEG is working on a plan to partner with the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest and Mark Cuban “to re-brand HDNet as a new TV network called AXS.” This new venture “will feature live entertainment from AEG’s venues, and offer a new platform for buying concert tickets.”
The fracking Anschutz
The Anschutz Exploration Corporation, has been involved in a suit involving horizontal hydrofracking, more commonly known as fracking. Dryden, New York, a sleepy little town of about 14,000 people, has banned fracking. In late February, to the delight of anti-fracking activists, New York Judge Philip Rumsey ruled that the ban was legal. According to several reports, Anschutz’s corporation has leases on over 22,000 acres of land in Dryden, investing $5.1 million in drilling operations.
Dryden is one of a number of towns in New York “which have banned fracking within their limits, as the state government deliberates on how to proceed with the increasingly controversial natural gas extraction technique,” the treehugger web site reported.
In a presentation titled “Taking the Handle Off the Fracking Pump:
Human Rights and the Role of Public Health Inquiry in an Age of Extreme Fossil Fuel Extraction,” Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar in Residence Department of Environmental Studies Ithaca College, pointed out that “Horizontal hydrofracking is a form of fossil fuel extraction that turns the earth inside out. It buries a surface resource that is vital to life (fresh water) and brings to the surface subterranean substances (hydrocarbons, radioactive materials, heavy metals, brine) that were once locked away in deep geological strata and which now require permanent containment.
“Before it is sent down the borehole, the fresh water used to fracture bedrock is mixed with inherently toxic materials. These include known and suspected carcinogens, neurological toxicants, and chemicals linked to pregnancy loss. At least one thousand truck trips are required to frack a single well. These trucks-along with earth-moving equipment, compressors, and condensers-release or create soot, volatile organic compounds, and ozone. Exposure to this kind of air pollution has demonstrable links to asthma, stroke, heart attack, cancers, and preterm birth.”
According to The New York Times, “Thomas West, the Albany lawyer representing Anschutz, said the company might appeal or instead pursue a ‘takings’ claim against the town – based on the principle that private property should not be taken without just compensation. West said the company had spent more than $5 million securing land leases from Dryden property owners and could claim the lost value of its assets, including any profits it would have derived from exploiting the mineral rights under the land. “It could be a very large claim,” he said.
While the Anschutz Entertainment Group provides numerous diversions and entertainment options, the Anschutz Exploration Group is involved in more toxic endeavors. Although anti-fracking activists have been heartened by recent judicial decisions, fracking supporters, including Philip Anschutz’s Anschutz Exploration Corp, are re-considering their options, including appealing court rulings.
In any case, battles over fracking are really just beginning. Sandra Steingraber’s message to Philip Anschutz: You represent “the line of tanks in Tiananmen Square that we now stand before.”
About the AuthorBill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.