Back to the Source REDACTED: $52 Steaks on Menu as AT&T Feted Lawmakers During T-Mobile Push

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Do you remember the AT&T/T-Mobile merger that dominated the news earlier this fall? It caused quite the stir in Washington, with numerous outlets reporting on AT&T’s massive lobbying efforts to push through the merger. Bloomberg was one such news outlet, reporting a story of expensive steaks and ‘lobbyist’s libations’ in early September. The story focused on the numerous swanky fundraisers AT&T was hosting as well as their generous campaign donations to key lawmakers.

This was undoubtedly a great investigative piece and involved a good deal of skilled journalism. Using this article as a guide, however, it’s possible to see how any of us – or you – could do a similar investigation.

Fundraisers

The article begins describing the lavish fundraisers AT&T had been hosting for lawmakers, citing Sunlight’s Party Time data.

  • “AT&T hosted at least nine fundraising receptions and dinners since the deal was announced on March 20.”
  • One of which was held at Charlie Palmer Steak, where “AT&T and one of its outside firms, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, shared hosting duties for a June 14 fundraising dinner for Representative Henry Waxman, of California.”
  • Another was held at BLT Steak. The article says it “was the scene of a June 21 fundraising dinner hosted by AT&T for Representative Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican who sits on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.”

Sunlight’s Party Time data is free and available for anyone to use. We manually collect fundraiser and event invitations and put them online. They are searchable by a variety of of criteria including committee, leadership PAC, beneficiary, host, and venue.

For example, a PartyFinder search for “AT&T” as a “Host” returns a list of all the fundraisers hosted by AT&T’s Federal PAC. The most recent one was September 20th. A PartyFinder search for “Charlie Palmer Steak” as “Venue Name” returns a list of all the fundraisers held at the restaurant mentioned in the article. It’s a popular locale – already three fundraisers are scheduled to be held there next month.

Campaign Donations

The article makes a number of points that suggest AT&T exerted its political influence through campaign donations. The article notes the following, frequently citing data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics:

  • “AT&T’s political action committee gave $805,500 to federal candidates.”
  • The company’s PAC “was the most generous corporate PAC this year.”
  • “House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Representative Fred Upton… each received $5,000 from AT&T’s PAC.”
  • During the past year AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi donated “$1,500 to Boehner, $2,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $1,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.”
  • Since 2009, AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson has donated “$2,000 to Boehner, $6,000 to the Republican senatorial committee and $4,000 to the Republican congressional committee.”
  • “AT&T’s contributions this year have split 64 percent to Republicans and 36 percent to Democrats, compared with… 55 percent Republican and 45 percent Democratic in the previous election cycle.”
  • “AT&T’s PAC has given Waxman $4,000 so far this year, and Akin Gump’s PAC gave him $1,200.”
  • “Roskam received $3,500 from AT&T’s PAC.”
These numbers can all be found using CRP data to look at money donated by AT&T’s PAC, money donated to a specific candidate, and money donated by a specific person. CRP’s “Donor Lookup” tool allows you to search for campaign contributions by individual donors or recipients. You can narrow the search by election cycle, state, donor occupation or employer, and zip code. Keep the search simple and broad to return maximum results and possibly identify donation patterns. For example, just typing “Stephenson, Randall” returns numerous instances of the AT&T executive donating to prominent Republican lawmakers as well as AT&T’s PAC.

Similar results can be found using Sunlight’s Transparency Data and Influence Explorer tools. TransparencyData allows users to sort through raw campaign finance records, while Influence Explorer shows polished lists of top contributors and recipients. Both tools also house other corporate accountability and regulatory datasets so users can get a big picture look at any corporation’s or individual’s influence in government.

Lobbying Efforts

The article notes that AT&T “boosted lobbying spending by 30 percent to $11.7 million in the first six months of 2011 compared with a year earlier” and that the company “supplemented its own in-house lobbyists with 18 outside firms pushing for the merger.” The article specifically notes:

  • “The firm of former U.S. senators John Breaux [ … ] and Trent Lott [ … ] received $240,000.”
  • “A company headed by former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts [ … ] got $100,000.”
  • “Former House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin’s firm was paid $50,000”
  • “Wiley Rein LLP, a law firm [ … ] co-founded by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Richard Wiley, received $160,000.”
  • “Clyburn Consulting LLC, where the principal [ … ] a cousin to Representative James Clyburn [ … ] received $60,000”
  • “Akin Gump received $240,000 this year to lobby on behalf of the merger and other issues.”

Lobbying information can be found using CRP’s Lobbying Database, which is searchable by client, firm, lobbyist, industry, issue area, agency, position, or bill. A search for “AT&T” as “Client” returns results providing AT&T’s total lobbying expenditures by year, as well as an itemized list of lobbying expenses that indicates which lobbying firms were hired and how much they were paid. Narrowing by year shows that by Sept. 20, 2011, AT&T had already spent $11,690,000. The total for the entire previous year was $15,395,078.

Sunlight’s Influence Explorer and TransparencyData also provide this lobbying data. Once again, TransparencyData displays the raw records while Influence Explorer displays lists and summaries of lobbyists hired and issues most frequently disclosed as lobbied on.

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“Back to the Source: REDACTED” shows you what the news would look like without transparency. Laws and regulations that force the government to make the data it has publicly available are absolutely vital, along with services that take that raw data and make it easy for reporters to write sentences like the ones we’ve redacted here. If you have an article you’d like us to put through the redaction machine, please send us an email at mbuck@sunlightfoundation.com.

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