Published: May 8, 2013 104 Comments

LOS ANGELES — An effort by two conservative billionaires to take over The Los Angeles Times and seven other newspapers is setting off a firestorm of opposition here. Public employee unions, the leaders of the State Legislature and liberal advocacy groups are moving to block the sale, denouncing it as a threat to public workers and Democratic Party issues.

Ten public employee unions on Thursday sent a letter to the largest shareholder in the Tribune Company, which owns the newspapers, urging it not to sell to the billionaires, David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch. The Kochs have championed legislative efforts to cut public pension benefits and the power of public unions, notably in Wisconsin.

About one-quarter of the assets held by Oaktree Capital Management, the leading shareholder in the Tribune Company, comes from public employee pension fund investments, and labor leaders, looking to exert influence on Oaktree, signaled they would press to withdraw the funds if the sale went through.

“The sale of the Tribune Company’s newspaper assets would provide the Koch brothers a powerful and influential platform by which to promote, at both the local, state and federal level, that enactment of their anti-public pension fund policies,” the unions said in a letter to Bruce Karsh, who is president of Oaktree Capital Management and chairman of the Tribune board of directors. It said that the Koch brothers had a history of orchestrating efforts that are “anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-public education and anti-immigrant.”

The prospect that the Koch brothers, notorious in Democratic circles for their heavy financing of conservative candidates and causes, could run The Los Angeles Times has struck a nerve in this liberal corner of the country. The Times, if somewhat diminished by the cuts it has suffered over the years, remains a powerful influence in public life here and its existence is integral to the modern history of Los Angeles.

The resistance is not only here. In Chicago on Wednesday, demonstrators protested outside the headquarters of The Chicago Tribune, which is also owned by the Tribune Company, about the possibility of a Koch takeover.

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