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WI: State Democratic Party a lobbyist for AT$T

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Created 05/04/2007 - 11:11pm

Introductions: Mr. Wineke, please meet Mr. Bobby Rush, [1] perhaps your personal foundations have a mutual interest?

from: [2]

State Democratic Party chief registers as lobbyist for AT&T on cable-TV bill WSJ

The chairman of the state Democratic Party has registered as a lobbyist for telecommunications giant AT&T, which is pushing for the Legislature to pass a bill that would ease its entrance into the state's cable TV market, the Associated Press reported this afternoon.

Joe Wineke registered as a lobbyist for AT&T, its 16th lobbyist on the cable-competition bill, on Thursday. That was just eight days after the Democratic-controlled Senate sent the measure back to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee instead of debating it.

The bill won preliminary approval from the Republican-controlled Assembly last week and is up for a final vote Wednesday. But because the Senate referred the measure to the Joint Finance Committee, its passage has been delayed indefinitely.

Wineke did not immediately return a message Friday seeking comment.

According to the state Ethics Board, Wineke has no other clients.

Wineke's lobbying for AT&T raises questions over whether the Democratic Party is also officially endorsing the bill, said Jay Heck, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog group.

Ideally, it would be better if the head of a political party did not muddy the waters by registering as a lobbyist, Heck said.

The cable bill has bipartisan support. It is being sponsored in the Assembly by Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, and in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee.

The heavily lobbied cable-competition bill would end the 30-year-old practice of letting local communities negotiate service agreements and instead have the state do it.

Supporters say the measure will provide competition where there is none and reduce the cost of delivering telecasts. They also say the bill ensures that no communities will get less money under the new agreement than they do currently.

But opponents note that the bill does not guarantee competition, or competitive pricing, and large telecommunications companies are unlikely to set up shop in more sparsely populated parts of the state.

Republicans in the Senate tried to stop the bill being diverted to the Joint Finance Committee, which will delay its passage. But Democrats called for the move, saying it was needed to answer questions about how much the proposed changes will cost.

Under the bill, the state Department of Financial Institutions would license video-service providers while another agency, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, would handle consumer calls and complaints.

The measure also would extend consumer protections to satellite TV for the first time.

AT&T supports a statewide licensing system, instead of having to go through each municipality, as a simpler and more efficient way for it to compete in the state.

For the full story, see tomorrow's Wisconsin State Journal.

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