America’s telecommunications companies spent US$56.8 million on political contributions over six years and a minimum of $77.8 million on lobbying over two years in an attempt to curry favor with elected officials in the states, according to a new Center for Public Integrity analysis.
Large regional telephone companies and cable television operators are spending millions in the hope that legislative success at the state level will translate into similar success in Washington, D.C., as Congress debates a major rewrite of federal telecommunications laws this autumn.
The most active telecommunications company in the states by far has been San Antonio, Texas-based SBC Communications. In just one two-year period – 2003-2004 – the former “Baby Bell” spent a minimum of US$16.3 million to lobby state governments. And it spent another US$10.1 million on contributions to state political parties and candidates’ campaigns from 1999 to 2004.
The legislative influence of SBC and other former Bells- the regional phone companies that spun off following the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s – has grown considerably with the collapse of chief rivals AT&T and MCI. But the power vacuum left by the once-mighty long-distance carriers is being filled by the cable television industry, a relative newcomer to the regulatory wars.
Meanwhile, even with the rapidly changing playing field, the most persistent priority for the former Bells continues to be the elimination of state regulation over local phone rates- an area in which they have enjoyed considerable success, much to the dismay of consumer advocates.
The lobbying total is a conservative tally – poor disclosure laws in nearly half the states make it difficult to get a true picture of all industry spending. Despite the limitations, the survey provides a good snapshot of which companies in the telecommunications business are most active in statehouses across the nation.
The contribution data, provided by the Institute on Money in State Politics and analyzed by Center researchers, reflects donations made to candidates for state office and to state party organizations. It does not include contributions made to federal candidates or national political parties. The lobbying data was compiled by Center staffers and includes spending by traditional telecommunications companies, such as AT&T and SBC, as well as wireless providers, cable television system operators and industry trade associations.
The contribution data includes donations made by traditional carriers, telecommunications services and equipment companies.
SBC spokesman Dave Pacholczyk provided the Center with a written statement in response to their findings “Telecom is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, requiring us to participate in the legislative process more than most businesses,” it reads. “Decisions made by government can have a significant impact on our ability to serve our customers, so we have to make sure policymakers are educated and informed on our issues.”