WI: AT$T front group won't face legal investigation

Posted on August 24, 2007 - 7:41am.

from: National journal

AT&T-Backed Group Won't Face Wis. Probe

By Michael Martinez

(Monday, August 20) The top law enforcer in Wisconsin has decided not to formally investigate an advocacy group that misrepresented a pair of state lawmakers' positions on a pending telecommunications bill.

State Reps. Joseph Parisi and Sondy Pope-Roberts asked Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to determine whether the group TV4US broke the law by saying in materials distributed to legislators that the lawmakers voted for legislation to establish a statewide video-franchising system. Parisi and Pope-Roberts voted against bill, which was passed by their chamber and is now before the state Senate.

The legislation would let video service providers enter the state's market in one step by applying for statewide franchises. TV4US, which is partially funded by AT&T, listed Parisi and Pope-Roberts as supporters of the bill in a petition it submitted to the legislature.

But according to Van Hollen, it is not against state law to present legislators with inaccurate information. He said in a letter to Parisi and Pope-Roberts last week that TV4US did not violate the state's false advertising law because no commercial sales of goods or services were involved with the petition. He also said the state's ethics code for public officials does not apply because TV4US is a private entity.

"In the absence of any information indicating a violation of state law has occurred, a formal investigation into this matter is not warranted at this time," Van Hollen wrote.

Pope-Roberts, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview that she is now working on legislation with Parisi that would make it illegal to deliberately misrepresent the positions of lawmakers. "It just seems absurd that it isn't illegal already," she said.

The video-franchising proposal has led to other political dust-ups in Wisconsin this year. Several activist groups called on state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke to resign after he registered as a lobbyist with AT&T in May, when the state House was considering the bill.

Large telecommunications companies have pushed for franchising reform in states across the country since the demise of a nationwide franchising proposal during the 109th Congress. Other states with bills on the table include Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group has been trying to rally opposition to the proposal there. Bruce Speight, the group's public-interest advocate, said that TV4US and AT&T have run an effective misinformation campaign and that the incident with Parisi and Pope-Robert is only part of it. He said he hopes more lawmakers will turn against the measure as they learn that it would not bring the competition and prices its supporters have promised.

"[The bill] was written for and by AT&T and the TV4US coalition," he said.

Posted by Michael Martinez on August 22, 2007 9:26 AM