AT&T and the GOP: More than $400K donated to anti-net-neutrality senators

Six Republican senators co-sponsoring an amendment to prevent the U.S. from enacting new broadband rules have received more than $400,000 in campaign and political-action contributions from AT&T, the telecom giant that has criticized the new FCC rules, as well as other large telecoms and cable companies.

Campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that AT&T-related entities have donated some $67,300 to the campaign and political action committees of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas Republican and lead sponsor of the amendment to an unrelated Interior Department appropriations bill that would bar the FCC from spending money "to develop and implement new regulatory mandates."
"I am deeply concerned by the direction the FCC appears to be heading," Hutchison said in a statement. "Even during a severe downturn, America has experienced robust investment and innovation in network performance and online content and applications. For that innovation to continue, we must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations."

Last month, Hutchison announced that she plans to run for governor of Texas and will face a primary battle against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed six broadband policy rules designed to keep the internet open and competitive and prevent broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from unfairly discriminating against content that competes with their own offerings.

Four of Hutchison's five co-sponsors have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from AT&T and Verizon, and a fifth worked for a D.C. lobbying firm -- before he was elected senator -- when it represented Comcast, the cable giant.

Over the course of his career, Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, has received $220,914 from "telephone utilities," including some $83,130 from AT&T, his second-largest donor, in the form of employee and lobbyist donations to his campaign and political-action committees. Sprint Nextel has given Brownback $35,550 over the course of his career.

Two of the co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. David Vitter of Lousiana and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who have both seen their reputations tarnished after sex scandals, have been on the receiving end of AT&T's largesse. AT&T and predecessor BellSouth have donated $82,050 to Vitter's campaigns and political-action committees. And over the last four years, AT&T has donated some $61,250 to Ensign's campaign and political-action committees. Verizon-related entities donated $46,600 to Ensign during that period.

During that time, AT&T has donated $63,750 to the campaign and political-action committees of Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican. AT&T is DeMint's second-largest donor.

Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican, has not received significant donations from the telecom industry since his 2006 defeat of Sen. Tom Daschle, then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. But from 2003 to 2005, Thune served as a senior policy adviser to the D.C. lobbying firm of Arent, Fox, when its client Comcast, the largest cable company in the U.S., paid some $40,000 in fees.

In a statement, AT&T balked at the extension of the proposed FCC rules to the wireless space, expressing "concern" that "the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America, wireless services."

The CTIA–The Wireless Association, the industry group representing the major cell-phone companies, issued a statement saying it is "concerned about the unintended consequences Internet regulation would have on consumers considering that competition within the industry has spurred innovation, investment, and growth for the U.S. economy."

Of course, AT&T and their employees have spread money widely around Washington, donating some $603,634 to presidential and congressional campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton, according to the Huffington Post's Fundrace website.

AT&T has been the most generous donor to Sen. Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota and a lead sponsor of pro-net neutrality legislation, contributing some $65,300 over his career. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, has received some $56,300 from AT&T. Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, has received $236,896 over his career from Viacom, the giant media company, which has wrangled with telecom and cable companies. But none of these politicians back an amendment to an unrelated Interior Department appropriations bill that would bar the FCC from spending money to implement its new rules.

Update Sept. 23, 2009, 3:30 p.m. EST: Sen Hutchison and her GOp colleagues have reversed course and stopped pushing for the anti0net neutrality amendment, The Washington Post's Cecilia Kang reported late Tuesday.

"While we are still generally opposed to net neutrality regulations, we have decided to hold off on the amendment because [FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski] approached us and we are beginning a dialogue," a staff member on the committee told Kang, who reported the following additional details:

An official at the FCC confirmed that Genachowski, who on Monday introduced a proposal for net neutrality rules, called Republican members who criticized his move, saying it could hurt the businesses of network operators. The call was intended to begin a conversation about the proposal that would prevent Internet service providers from blocking Web content and services.

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