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Billionaire bidder for Tribune Publishing draws scrutiny over political activism

Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, one of the co-bidders for Tribune Publishing, has an extensive history of political activism that is raising concerns that his ownership of the company could slant its reporting, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Last week, Wyss joined Stewart Bainum, chairman of Choice Hotels, in making an offer to purchase Tribune Publishing, competing with a previous bid made by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

The move comes six years after Wyss launched The Hub Project, an expressly political entity created by one of his charitable organizations, the Wyss Foundation. According to the mission statement, the project “builds coalitions and provides resources, capacity, infrastructure, and expertise to partners in the progressive movement.”

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Among Hubs’s programs, according to the Times and the Hub website, was providing “logistical support” for a national protest demanding the release of former President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE’s tax returns in 2017.

Representatives for The Hub Project and the Wyss Foundation did not immediately respond to The Hill’s requests for comment. Representatives Bainum’s company Choice Hotels, also did not immediately comment.

Wyss and Bainum declined to speak to The New York Times for its article.

Tribune Publishing said on April 5 that the Wyss-Bainum bid could lead to a "superior proposal" but that a “definitive binding merger agreement with Alden Global Capital remains in place.”

Tribune's board of directors is still recommending that shareholders approve the sale to Alden, which currently owns 32 percent of the company. Two-thirds of those shareholders, not including Alden, must vote to approve the deal. Tribune expects the sale to close sometime in the second quarter.

Tribune owns approximately 20 newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News and South Florida's Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel.

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Given Wyss’s political activities, the Times reported, his bid for Tribune is similar to a situation in 2013 when conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch were exploring an acquisition for eight Tribune newspapers via their company Koch Industries.

News of that deal inspired the creation of the Save Our News Coalition and motivated leaders such as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to say it would be difficult for Tribune newspapers to stay objective if they were owned by the Kochs.

The Kochs abandoned the idea later in 2013.