Monday, April 23, 2012

Covering All The Bases

An amazingly detailed and lengthy primer on how to buy a state government appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. It appears that AT&T has all the bases covered quite successfully.

The Speaker's Cup is the centerpiece of a corporate lobbying strategy so comprehensive and successful that it has rewritten the special-interest playbook in Sacramento. When it comes to state government, AT&T spends more money, in more places, than any other company.

It forges relationships on the putting green, in luxury suites and in Capitol hallways. It gives officials free tickets to Lady Gaga concerts. It takes lawmakers on trips around the globe and all-expenses-paid retreats in wine country. It dispenses millions in political donations and employs an army of lobbyists. It has spent more than $14,000 a day on political advocacy since 2005, when it merged with SBC into its current form.

A handful of labor unions and trade groups have spent more on a combination of lobbying and direct political giving, but state records show that in the last seven years, no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T. At the same time, a tide of consumer protections has ebbed and the company has been unshackled from the watchful eye of state regulators. ...

Many of the company's victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case.

The rest of AT&T's wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm's bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed.

And all of this money is in addition to campaign contributions, which, of course, are the the staples of corporate influence.

From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.

In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.

But wait! There's more. AT&T also uses another canny tool: charitable contributions.

Charitable giving has long been entwined with AT&T's political strategy. The firm has given $145,000 to two charter schools in Oakland founded by Gov. Jerry Brown, $50,000 of that since Brown was elected governor. It gives to a range of other groups, and many AT&T representatives serve on their boards. The organizations often back the company's priorities.

And you wonder why your AT&T bill gets higher, more complicated, almost impossible to figure out? All part of the "never give a sucker an even break" approach that the company has refined so well.

The article is long, but well worth the time spent reading it, and I urge you to do so.

And, I must say that even though I grouse a lot about the Times, this is a superb effort in investigative reporting. It exemplifies what our free press should be doing to educate us so we can raise holy hell when our government is subverted by the corporatocracy.

Well done. And more like this, please.

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