TN: Players in cable fight make big donations to legislative campaigns

Posted on March 25, 2008 - 6:53am.

from: The Tennessean

Players in cable fight make big donations to legislative campaigns

By THEO EMERY • Staff Writer • March 23, 2008

AT&T and the major cable companies poured campaign donations into the coffers of Tennessee lawmakers last year.

Most came in the last weeks of 2007, just before the fundraising cutoff at the January start of the legislative session. Under the state's 2-year-old ethics laws, lawmakers cannot raise money during the session.

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG, said campaign contributions and well-connected lobbyists "make a big difference" in fights across the nation over cable.

"Campaign contributions buy access, and they're part of the game," he said. "It's difficult to play if you're not matching contributions."

The AT&T Tennessee Political Action Committee donated more than $90,000 to lawmakers' campaign funds in 2007 and early 2008, according to state Registry of Election Finance records.

The donations included $1,000 to Rep. Charles Curtiss, who sponsored last year's AT&T bill; $12,000 to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses; $2,000 to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's PAC, The Speaker's Fund; $3,200 to the Tennessee Republican Caucus; and $2,000 to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Naifeh's campaigns.

PAC-ABLE, a PAC for cable companies, gave more than $45,000 in 2007, including $2,500 to RAAMPAC, Ramsey's PAC; $1,000 to The Speaker's Fund; $1,000 to the House Democratic Caucus; and $1,500 each to the Tennessee Republican Caucus and the Tennessee Democratic Party.

In addition, the Comcast Corp. PAC gave $5,000 each to the House Democratic Caucus and The Speaker's Fund, both within weeks of the end of last year's session, according to campaign finance filings.
No guarantees

Curtiss said campaign donations don't guarantee a vote one way or the other.

"It's not because the person making the contribution thinks they're going to get something. All they're wanting is someone who will listen to their issues," he said.

Bob Corney, AT&T's spokesman, said the firm is a good corporate citizen and is following all the rules. Expanding business, he said, requires resources.

"This is what we believe is an important growth area, and anytime you're trying to open up an area like this, it's not easy," he said. "We're certainly going to apply the appropriate level of resource and the appropriate level of attention to doing it."

Briggs, of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, said that cable companies have no choice but to dedicate their own resources to the battle.

"When one of the largest telecommunications companies in the entire world comes in and tries to ram through a new policy that will completely change the way business is run and allow them a huge break that we've never gotten … we're going to fight," she said.

Contact Theo Emery at or 726-4889.

( categories: AT&T | State Franchises | TENNESSEE )