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.

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  • Brett is inaccurate in his claim that Google maintains a monopoly on search advertising, Internet search, and video. Microsoft Bing competes with Google, Apple is running its own contextual ad service, and there are dozens of video websites.

    Free Press does not accept industry money of any kind and most of the other organizations Brett mentions clearly disclose who backs them. The same cannot be said for the telecom industry’s astroturfing, where minority interest groups accept donations without disclosure to engage in “dollar a holler” lobbying for the interests of AT&T and Verizon.

    But then Brett accused a Washington Post reporter of being on Google’s payroll earlier this morning, so he sees Google everywhere.

    It’s hard for consumers to get too upset with a company that doesn’t charge people anything to use its services. That cannot be said for the phone and cable companies.

  • raquel brac

    Lobbying is not illegal. Nevertheless, paid lobbyists should be considered criminal and illegal, just as prostitution and bribery are illegal. That would end the problem.

  • JLAB

    They screw us as elected officials of the people, then they get us again as lobbyist!
    This is so transparent, and so wrong. Money, money, money makes the whole world corrupt. I believe the US probably leads the World in corruption. This needs to come to an end, stand up and be counted!

  • Paul,

    You repeat the standard lobbyist defense that “Lobbying is protected by the First Amendment.”

    The right of a citizen to petition their political representative, yes. But what if that “citizen” is not a person (shades of Citizens United), and not petitioning on behalf of a citizen? More to the point, what if that citizen sells their services to others? Finally, what about the politician who gives a lobbyist more access than they provide ordinary citizens (which, in economic terms, is a rent)?

    When you think of the issue with those details, are you still so sure that the First Amendment defense is a slam-dunk?

    Terry

  • Brett Glass, and don’t forget Electronic Frontier Foundation and Persondal Democracy Forum.

  • Good! This should at least even up the enormous lobbying on this subject by done from Google and other Silicon Valley behemoths *for* the ill-named “net neutrality”.

    But you don’t report on them, do you. In fact, are they some of your funders?

    No, you and they don’t even call yourselves lobbyists. Yet you’re no different.

    And, yes, lobbying is legal, is protected by the First Amendment, and you do it, too.

    While I totally understand why you loathe telecoms, you always exaggerate. And it’s always in favour of Google. And frankly, it’s good that there is still a bastion of strength left on the East Coast that can withstand the Google takeover attempts.

  • In a way, yes.

  • Brett Glass

    Interesting, but one-sided. The article above fails to mention that Google — which enjoys monopolies on Internet search, Internet search advertising, Internet banner advertising, and Internet video — is outspending every one of the telephone companies on lobbying, and much of it via “astroturf” groups which claim to be “public interest” organizations but in fact lobby for Google’s agenda. Will the Sunlight Foundation do a followup on the ways in which the New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Free Press, Future of Music Coalition, and Open Internet Coalition — all lobbying for Google — are pushing Google’s corporate agenda in DC?

  • Lobbying is protected by the First Amendment. Without getting rid of, or amending, the First Amendment, you aren’t going to get rid of lobbying.

  • Steve R

    Why don’t we just call a spade a spade – it’s BRIBE and CORRUPT, whatever you label it.

    “Lobbying” is just the “politically correct” label – it’s the beginning of all corruption and should be outlawed.

    I mean come on – does anyone really think lobbyists give politicians “donations” to their campaigns out of the kindness of their hearts?

    Hell no – they want something in return and it’s not what you and I want or need.

    And are you kidding me? 276 “crooks” – er I mean “lobbyists”? Next they’ll be hiring one per politician!

    Something’s gotta give. I for one have had enough of the politics in this country. It’s more corrupt than anywhere I’ve ever been or heard of.

    Time for another revolution!

  • I vaguely remember some rules that were instituted in the late 1970s that aimed at shutting down the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying world. Do I remember correctly? Whatever happened to personal integrity, anyway? Sigh.

  • Paul,
    Fantastic Article!
    FYI, I was directed from Politico.com

    I’d like to see some opinion & analysis on this Transparency/Information.

    Or better yet, see some new Ellen Miller Actionable events.