AT&T, carriers fund democratic reps against net neutrality
All but two of the 72 Democratic lawmakers who cautioned last Friday against open-Internet rules have received campaign donations this year from Internet service providers, the companies most likely to be impacted by new regulations.
For their most recent election campaigns, the House members received a total of more than $405,000 from the nation's largest carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and the trade associations representing them, according to a Post analysis of data on Opensecrets.org. AT&T gave the most: about $180,000 to 52 of the 72 Democratic lawmakers. The company has historically been the biggest donor to Congressional campaigns of any company.
When asked if AT&T directly contacted the lawmakers about their concern over Internet access rules and asked them to send letters to the FCC, spokesman Michael Balmoris sent the following statement by e-mail: "There clearly is a lot of concern about the direction the FCC appears to be headed and it is no different than any of the hundreds sent over the last several weeks expressing those concerns."
Verizon and Comcast each made total donations of about $73,000 to various Representatives on the letter. Both companies have said they don't believe the FCC needs extra net neutrality rules.
The Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski last Friday, criticizing a proposal to strengthen and broaden rules that would stop ISPs from blocking legal content and services on the Web. The letter follows similar criticism in recent weeks by Republican senators, Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Democratic and Republican governors and state representatives against net neutrality rules.
"In light of the growth and innovation in new applications that the current regime has enabled, as compared to the limited evidence demonstrating any tangible harm, we would urge you to avoid tentative conclusions which favor government regulation," the Democratic House lawmakers wrote to Genachowski last Friday.
To be sure, the Internet service providers have also donated broadly across Congress. Proponents of net neutrality rules have also received donations. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who has introduced legislation to prevent carriers from blocking content on their networks, received $1,000 from wireless trade group CTIA and $8,000 from Time Warner in his last campaign.
Ben Scott, head of policy for public interest group, Free Press, says pro-net neutrality members like Markey and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) routinely take money from carriers but won't budge on the topic, which they have jurisdiction over as members of the committees that oversee telecommunications policy. They also have a longer lists of donors than others in Congress and accept money broadly.
What was curious about the 72 Democratic members who signed onto the letter last week is that several are freshmen members of the House of Representatives who have never previously weighed in on the issue, Scott said.
"This is a safe issue for them because they don't have to take a position on it for public record but can can still get money for their campaigns by weighing in on it," Scott said. "They are all people who need to get reelected and where small amounts of money make a big difference."
Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) received $2,000 from AT&T and $2,000 from Comcast for his first election last year. He doesn't serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee so wouldn't directly have jurisdiction over net neutrality.
More veteran but with no authority over telecom legislation, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) received $5,000 from AT&T and $1,000 from Verizion in 2009.
Yet on the letter were some lawmakers with direct impact. Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also a member of the Blue Dog group, received a total of $21,000 from major carriers, including $10,000 from Comcast and $4,000 from AT&T. Comcast has said new rules aren't necessary at the FCC and AT&T has pushed strongly against new rules for wireless networks.
Criticism has intensified against Genachowski's proposal, which is up for vote next week. The vote, expected to pass, will begin a months-long process of rule-making before a final policy is formed. Democratic governors and Republican senators have also sent letters to Genachowski to protest the rules. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Members Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex) urged against new rules, saying regulations could hamper investments in Internet networks and hurt the economy. She received $12,000 this year from AT&T for her relection campaign and has taken a total $67,000 from AT&T since her first election in 1989. AT&T is her highest individual donor historically.
October 19, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
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