Telecom, Cable Interests Channel Donations To Republican Incumbents

Posted on August 23, 2006 - 5:11pm.

from: Technology Daily

Telecom, Cable Interests Channel
Donations To Republican Incumbents

By David Hatch
Monday, August 14

Officials of dominant telephone and cable TV companies vying for an upper hand in pending telecommunications legislation are contributing heavily this election season to Republican incumbents who share those firms' deregulatory outlook.

The major beneficiaries of the largesse include Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Conrad Burns of Montana -- both members of the Senate Commerce Committee -- as well as House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton of Texas. All are Republicans.

The most generous contributor from the telecom/tech sector so far during the 2005-2006 cycle is AT&T. Its political action committees have contributed nearly $1.7 million to federal candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In addition to the regulatory relief it is pursuing in Congress, the company is seeking federal government approval to merge with BellSouth.

"Telecom industry contributions spike during years when there's big legislation," said Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the nonpartisan CRP -- which tracks the influence of money on politics. Industry expenditures for campaign contributions and lobbying are relatively small "compared to what they stand to gain," he contended.

The bulk of AT&T's donations -- 67 percent -- has gone to GOP members. Republicans are spearheading efforts to ease franchise regulations so that AT&T and other Bell companies can rapidly enter the programming business and compete with cable.

Meanwhile, AT&T is a strong opponent of so-called network neutrality restrictions that would bar it and other high-speed Internet operators from charging firms for preferential treatment in delivering their content online.

According to the nonpartisan PoliticalMoneyLine, a Web site that compiles campaign finance and lobbying data, other generous contributors during this cycle include PACs run by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association ($1,048,444), Verizon Communications ($905,700), BellSouth ($686,850), Comcast ($581,000), the National Association of Broadcasters ($403,820), Qwest Communications International ($384,702), Clear Channel Communications ($342,000), and Time Warner ($309,750).

By contrast, Internet companies that support a net neutrality mandate have made comparatively small donations -- with the exception of Microsoft, which has pumped $515,600 into Senate and House races.

Yahoo, another net neutrality proponent, has contributed $102,500. Both companies gave slightly more to Republicans than Democrats.

Allen has received $260,132 in PAC money from the tech sector this cycle -- more than any senator up for re-election. NAB, NCTA, Siebel Systems and VeriSign each contributed $10,000 to Allen.

The Virginia senator is considered a potential 2008 presidential contender -- but this year is facing a competitive challenge for re-election from Democrat James Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Republican who served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration.

Burns, whose connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff have made him one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in this year's election, has received $210,941 from the telecom/tech sector. Motorola, NAB, NCTA and Siebel are among his top corporate backers.

Closely behind is Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., another Senate Commerce Committee member. Ensign faces an easier time than Burns and Allen -- his opponent is businessman Jack Carter, son of former President Carter -- but has still attracted $203,439 in PAC money from the telecom/tech sector. Comcast and NCTA each gave $10,000.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has received $168,000 from the industry, which could prove handy in his tough re-election bid against the Democratic nominee, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. While Santorum is not on any committees that shape telecom policy, entrenched communications providers like his deregulatory views.

On the House side, Republican lawmakers who shepherded the passage of Bell-supported telecom legislation have attracted considerable PAC dollars even though their seats are safe. Top money raisers include Hastert ($158,350), Barton ($155,129) and Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton ($152,400), who chairs a key Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

( categories: Telcos | HR.5252 COPE | Senate S.2686 )