The revelation that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit against Gawker sent shockwaves through the media industry. Commentators had barely recovered from the $140 million in damages awarded to Hogan. Now they were grappling with a bigger question: Is this kind of financial arrangement even legal? Could it happen to them?
The short answer to both is yes—picking up the tab on someone else’s lawsuit is now perfectly legal (it wasn’t always), and people who do it aren’t required to reveal that they’re doing it or why. The practice is reviled by the business community, and yet Thiel, a staunch pro-business libertarian, has shown billionaires everywhere that it’s possible to not only sue a media company indirectly for revenge but to make money doing it. Now that the message is out, there’s nothing to stop other billionaires from following his lead.
‘This case could really change the landscape. Everyone who has gripes about the media is going to start thinking about dollars and cents, and running to their lawyers.’ Thomas Julin, lawyer specializing in the First Amendment
“This [case] could really change the landscape, because everyone who has gripes about what the media has done is going to start thinking about dollars and cents and running to their lawyers,” says Thomas Julin, a partner at Miami-based law firm Hunton and Williams who focuses on First Amendment litigation.
“And it’s going to get lawyers thinking, ‘Maybe I should be more willing to represent other individuals against the media.’”
Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group Co. is in the midst of launching a chain of theme parks and entertainment complexes across China, has taken aim at rival Walt Disney Co. ahead of the Magic Kingdom’s June 16 opening in Shanghai.
Disney “should not have come to China,” and Wanda aims to surpass the rival entertainment company as the world’s largest tourism company by 2020, Wang said in an appearance on a China Central Television show that aired Sunday. The chairman and founder will preside over the opening of a Wanda City featuring its own theme park, movie complex and hotels in the southeastern Jiangxi province that neighbors Shanghai this weekend.
Though Wang has jeered at Disney before, his latest comments signal an escalation in the rivalry between the world’s biggest entertainment company and China’s biggest as both prepare to open multi-billion-dollar parks. At stake is dominance of China’s burgeoning entertainment industry as the number of middle-class Chinese consumers is expected to swell.
“One tiger is no match for a pack of wolves,” he said on the talk show. “Shanghai has one Disney, while Wanda, across the nation, will open 15 to 20.”
Groups tied to Steyer, Bloomberg and Zuckerberg have spent over $25 million this year. | AP Photos
Democrats and liberal interest groups spent much of 2012 bemoaning an avalanche of outside spending from billionaires on the right, warning that ideological tycoons like the Koch brothers and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson could threaten the legitimacy of the American electoral system.
What a difference a year makes.
In the off-year campaigns of 2013, liberal and Democratic interests have enjoyed a decisive advantage in the billionaire spending bracket. Indeed, groups tied to just three billionaires — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, California investor Tom Steyer and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — have spent well more than $25 million this year pushing progressive candidates and causes.
Their arrival on the political scene, at the same time as many conservative donors remain disheartened from the GOP’s 2012 defeat, represents a shift in power in the arena of big-money campaigns. And it’s the clearest sign that Democrats have abandoned their initial revulsion about outside money in favor of a recognition that they have to play and win by the same political rules as their opponents.