Telcos Spent $10K Per Telecom Amnesty Vote, Sunshine Group Says
Political action committees for telecoms being sued for privacy violations gave more than $10,000 on average to each Congress member who voted to give amnesty to telecoms being sued for illegally helping the government spy on Americans, according to an analysis done by MapLight.org, an organization devoted to using new technology to show the influence of money on government.
The analysis found that from January 2005 to September 2007 AT&T, Sprint and Verizon PAC donations favored legislators who subsequently voted in March 2008 to help the companies escape their legal woes.
AT&T is being sued for massive invasions of its customers' privacy, and gives money to legislators who voted both for and against telecom amnesty.
That raises interesting questions, according to Daniel Newman, Maplight.org's executive director.
"Who are members of Congress listening to, the people voting for them or the telecoms companies that give them money?," Newman asks. "That's an open question. There's no way to tell but its a question constituents should be asking?"
But even those who voted against immunity got quite a bit of money from the telecom PACs, an average of $7000.
That's not a big difference, especially since MapLight.org analyzed contributions from January 2005 to September 2007 to House members. Legislators were broken down into pro and anit-amnesty based on their March 14 votes on H.R. 3773, the House's alternative to a Bush administration-approved Senate bill.
"I don't think money is the only thing that determines how someone votes," Newman said. "It does determine who has access. So many members of Congress get significant amounts of money from these PACs, so these companies have a seat at the table, as opposed to one voter who is a subscriber to AT&T's phone service and is concerned about wiretapping issues."
"It's a huge imbalance. Congress is supposed to be doing things for the country as whole."
The leading suit against the telecoms, Hepting vs. AT&T, accuses the company of helping the NSA wiretap the internet in company switching hubs around the country. The government wants that suit, and about 40 others, to be thrown on on the grounds they endanger national security.
A federal appeals court has yet to rule whether the suits can proceed. In the meantime, amnesty has become a central obsession of President Bush. He is threatening to veto any bill that expands his domestic spying powers -- power he claims are crucial to national security -- if the bill doesn't also have retroactive amnesty in it.
The House's recently passed spying expansion bill does not have immunity, though it creates a way for telecoms to defend themselves in court by letting them show their legal paperwork to a judge in secret. Government lawyers have so far objected to this, saying federal judges can not be trusted. The Senate's version contains a broad retroactive amnesty provision.
Maplight.org did not look at the entire communications industry, nor contributions from industry groups such as the Telecommunications Industry Association.
Also left out were personal contributions by top employees at telecoms.
In the fall, THREAT LEVEL noticed that Verizon and AT&T honchos recently began giving money to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (West Virginia), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who is a supporter of telecom amnesty.