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Former government officials hired to lobby as Congress looks to rewrite telecom law

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As leaders in Congress announced a series of hearings this June to tackle huge telecommunications issues with a focus on the Internet, the top phone and cable organizations that control the majority of the access to the Internet have hired 276 former government officials to lobby both the Congress and the executive branch.

According to data obtained from lobbyist disclosure forms and the Center for Responsive Politics, seventy-two percent of the lobbyists hired by AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the US Telecom Association have previous government experience. These organizations combined to spend $20.6 million lobbying the federal government in the first quarter of 2010.

Eighteen of the 276 revolving door lobbyists are former members of Congress. These include the powerful former senators John Breaux and Trent Lott. The Breaux Lott Leadership Group reported spending $150,000 lobbying on behalf of AT&T in the first quarter of 2010.

Both Breaux and Lott served in the leadership of their respective parties while in the Senate with Lott serving as Majority Leader. Lott also served on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, the committee with jurisdiction over the telecommunications industry.

The eighteen former lawmakers include a heavy representation from the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, the House committee with telecommunications jurisdication. In 2010, the organizations hired former Energy & Commerce Committee members Jim Davis (AT&T), Jack Fields (Verizon), Ron Klink (Comcast), Chip Pickering (Comcast and National Cable and Television Association) and Al  Wynn (US Telecom Association).

The organizations are also hiring former lawmakers with previous clout in both the House and the Senate. Former Sen. Don Nickles, hired to lobby for Comcast, was the Republican Majority Whip from 1996 to 2001. Comcast also hired the former House Majority Whip William H. Gray.

Aside from Breaux and Lott, AT&T has hired two other lawmakers with strong resumes, former House Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts and longtime California Democrat Vic Fazio.

The top telecom organizations are also hiring a number of lobbyists who previously worked on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation or the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Fourteen lobbyists used to work on the House committee and thirteen previously worked at the Senate committee. In addition, the six organizations employ 26 former staffers of current members of the House committee and 22 former staffers of current members of the Senate committee.

These staffers include the former chief of staff, Lane Bailey, and deputy chief of staff, Patrick Robertson, to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Robertson lobbies for Comcast and Bailey lobbies for the National Cable and Television Association.

The former counsel to Sen. John Kerry, the number two Democrat on the committee, Barry LaSala, is registered to lobby for Verizon.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable lead the way in hiring former government officials as lobbyists. Ninety percent of lobbyists hired by Time Warner Cable previously worked in government. Two Time Warner lobbyists served as congressmen and two others served as staffers to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

In first quarter lobbyists disclosure filings for 2010, eighty-eight percent of all lobbyists hired by Comcast had previous experience in government. While this percentage is slightly lower than Time Warner's, Comcast hired more than twice as many lobbyists with former government experience as Time Warner did—82 to 38. This includes five former members of Congress and four Energy & Commerce Committee staffers. Comcast, as it seeks government approval of its purchase of NBC Universal, has also hired six former officials from the Department of Justice.

Broadband regulation has been a major issue over the past few years as many Democrats, including President Obama, have called for the institution of net neutrality rules to govern broadband transmission. Net neutrality regulations would prevent broadband service providers from blocking or slowing transmission to certain sites, services and users.

In April, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was rebuffed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after trying to stop Comcast from slowing broadband access to users using the BitTorrent file-sharing service. The court ruled that the FCC did not have sufficient regulatory authority to require Comcast to provide equal access to all sites and services online.

In the wake of the court's decision, four committee and subcommittee chairmen announced a series of meetings with industry players to discuss a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The meetings will focus on the changes in telecommunications brought on by the revolution in Internet technologies over the past fifteen years. Much of that time is expected to be spent on the regulation of broadband routes.

A group of 74 Democratic lawmakers recently sent a letter to FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski asking that the FCC not institute net neutrality rules without specific instruction from Congress. The 74 Democrats were comprised of a mix of Blue Dog Democrats, New Dems and members of both the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).

At least, six of the letter signatorees—Reps. Joe Baca, Allen Boyd, Corrine Brown, Baron Hill, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Ciro Rodriquez—have former staffers lobbying for the top telecom organizations.