Why Did Verizon and AT&T Executives Suddenly Swoon for a Senator?


Ryan Singel of the Threat Level blog discovers a curious phenomenon: Between 2001 and 2006, high level executives of AT&T and Verizon contributed hardly any money at all to the campaigns of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Starting in March 2007, they apparently discovered a real affinity for him, writing checks totaling some $48,500 to the West Virginia senator’s campaign committee. Perhaps that’s because Rockefeller had come around to their views:

Both companies are being sued for allegedly turning over billions of calling records to the government, while AT&T is also accused of letting the National Security Agency wiretap phone calls and its internet backbone. A federal judge in California allowed the suits regarding the eavesdropping to continue despite the government’s attempt to have the suits thrown out on the grounds they will endanger national security. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed that decision in August. The judges seemed reluctant to toss the cases, but have yet to issue a ruling.

On Thursday evening, the Rockefeller-led Senate Intelligence Committee is marking up a bill to re-amend the nation’s spy laws. While the text of the bill has not yet been released, the bill reportedly includes a way for the telecoms to escape the litigation against them.

The legal immunity for telecoms was included in the bill. Ellen Miller had previously noted the industry’s clout with Congress–“the telecom industry has spent $24 million lobbying Congress so far this year, and almost $52 million lobbying in 2006. In the two-year 2006 cycle, the latest cycle on record, the industry gave over $6.4 million dollars in political contributions to the House and Senate.” Always worth remembering that those millions end up in the coffers of particular politicians at particular times. By the way, all the numbers cited here and above come from the invaluable OpenSecrets from the Center for Responsive Politics–the ultimate scorecard for following politics.