The WikiLeaks dump of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails has revealed the broad extent of behind-the-scenes collaboration with Haim Saban, the Hollywood billionaire who controls Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network.
Mr. Saban is not just one of the top moneymen behind Hillary Clinton’s run, the Univision chairman of the board is also a trusted adviser, message strategist and operative for her presidential campaign, the emails confirm.
The frequent email exchanges reveal that Mr. Saban, who is Israeli-American and not Hispanic, was at the forefront of the push inside Camp Clinton to pound Republican candidate Donald Trump for his stance against illegal immigration and comments about Mexican criminals — a message echoed in Univision news coverage.
Shortly after Mr. Trump announced his run in June 2015, pledging to build a border wall and accusing Mexico of exporting criminals and rapists, Mr. Saban was on the phone with Mr. Podesta plotting strategy.
“Haim thinks we are under reacting to Trump/Hispanics. Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s for not condemning,” Mr. Podesta said in an email to his campaign colleagues.
“Haim is right — we should be jamming this all the time,” responded Jennifer Palmieri, director of communications for the Clinton campaign.
At Univision, news anchor Jorge Ramos became a chief antagonist of Mr. Trump, challenging his illegal immigration policies as un-American at press conferences and from the anchor desk.
Beyond blurring the lines between news and advocacy, Mr. Saban’s prominent role inside the Clinton campaign demonstrated how wealthy donors can buy a seat at the table.
Indeed, Mr. Saban in May 2015 hosted a dinner in the private wine gallery of the posh kosher steakhouse Reserve Cut in New York City for a who’s who of the Clinton universe.
The guest list included Mr. Podesta, Ms. Palmieri, campaign vice chair Huma Abedin, campaign manager Robby Mook, campaign finance director Dennis Cheng, fundraiser Laura Hartigan, deputy national political director Brynne Craig and rapid response director Adrienne Elrod.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Marc J. Hetherington said it wasn’t surprising to find intimate dealings between politicians and big donors such as Mr. Saban, who has poured more than $6 million into Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, super PACs and allied party committees.
That’s the way democracy in America works, he said, adding that it was still troubling.
“This is something that the American public is concerned about — overly cozy relationships between people who have interests in different policies and policymakers,” said Mr. Hetherington, an expert on media coverage of political campaigns and voter behavior. “The concern would be whether there was some quid pro quo.”
The emails did not indicate pressure form Mr. Saban to change Mrs. Clinton’s positions. He appears to believe that he shared her agenda.
Other powerful news media executives have had close relationships with the political campaign.
Roger Ailes, prior to stepping down in July as chairman of Fox News, was criticized by rival news outlets for advising Mr. Trump.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Saban said that the billionaire’s political activity was kept “completely separate” from the Univision newsroom.
“Haim has been a supporter of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party long before his affiliation with Univision, and he keeps the two completely separate,” the spokeswoman said. “Univision is editorially independent. The leaked emails further support this fact, as Haim clearly stated that he never tells the Univision news department what to cover.”
Daniel Coronell, president of Univision News, vouched for the editorial independence of the news operation within Univision Communications Inc.
“We are devoted to in-depth, quality journalism and maintain our independence from the larger corporation. Mr. Saban has always respected that independence and has never tried to get involved or made any requests to our news division,” he said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Mr. Saban also advised the Clinton campaign about attacking her chief primary rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, for benefiting from super PAC support while denouncing big money in politics.
In a February email with the subject line “Bernie’s lies,” Mr. Saban suggests hitting Mr. Sanders in debate by saying, “You are against Super packs…right?,I don’t like them either…ok pls come clean with the American people, and explain etc.”
He said it would deliver a “Simple arrow [to] the heart and the brain. … and up his butt.”
In another instance, the campaign looked to Mr. Saban to plant a story in the Israeli news media about Mrs. Clinton’s commitment to the Jewish state, which would then get picked up by reporters in the U.S.
“If Haim’s going to give it to the Jewish media, I think that solves our problem. Once they write, we can make sure it gets picked up by some of our beat guys,” Christina Reynolds, the Clinton campaign deputy communications director, wrote in July 2015.
Alfonso Aguilar, president of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said he worries about Mr. Saban’s close ties to Mrs. Clinton and how that might affect Univision news coverage should she win the White House.
“It raises concerns, especially when you see some of Jorge Ramos’ comments about Mr. Trump,” said Mr. Aguilar, who was a surrogate for Mr. Trump but withdrew his support in September.
He stressed that there was no “smoking gun” that showed Mr. Saban was instructing his news department to slant coverage.
“My problem with Mr. Saban is that he is trying to use Latinos for political purposes to help Hillary,” he said, noting the Mr. Saban supports liberal goals including abortion on demand.
“I am concerned that somebody like that is going to work with the administration to advance the leftists’ radical agenda that Latinos oppose,” said Mr. Aguilar.