“Fighting Democrats” Rake-in Big Telecom Bucks

Here’s some “shocking” news for those of you who still believe in the tooth-fairy or that substantial “principled differences” exist between Democrats and Republicans. Politico reported Tuesday,

House Democrats who flipped their votes to support retroactive immunity for telecom companies in last week’s FISA bill took thousands of dollars more from phone companies than Democrats who consistently voted against legislation with an immunity provision. (Chris Frates, “Dems Who Flipped on FISA Immunity See More Telecom Cash,” Politico, June 24, 2008)

According to MAPLight, a watchdog group “that tracks the connection between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes,” the 94 Democrats who changed their position on telecom immunity “received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008.”

Despite congressional bromides about “national security” and “keeping America safe,” what it all comes down too is cold, hard cash. Considering that legislation passed last week by the House will effectively quash some 40 lawsuits pending against telecom giants–with potential savings for these corporate grifters running into the billions–it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude its a rigged game.

And despite efforts Wednesday by Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) to mount a filibuster against this onerous legislation, the Associated Press reports that 80 senators voted in favor of beginning debate while “only 15 senators tried to kill the bill by blocking debate.” And with Senate “leaders” such as Harry Reid (D-NV) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pressing for a Thursday vote, passage is a near certainty.

How do Democratic “leaders” spin the fabulous prizes showered on “team players” in the House? Politico’s Chris Frates reports,

Nick Papas, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Many members of the caucus opposed the earlier version of this legislation and ultimately supported better legislation that was the product of bipartisan negotiations. Months of hard work, not campaign contributions, earned the support of many members.”

But MAPLight executive director Daniel Newman told Politico, “unlike pressure from constituents, campaign cash is not a ‘democratic influence’.”

Indeed! But just for kicks, let’s take a peek at a list of the Top 10 Democrats who changed their vote to support telecom immunity. MAPLight breaks it down by boodle received and congressional district:

PAC contributions from Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint (January 2005-March 2008).

01. $29,500; James Clyburn, (SC-6).

02. $29,000; Steny Hoyer, (MD-5).

03. $28,000; Rahm Emanuel, (IL-5).

04. $27,500, Frederick Boucher, (VA-9).

05. $26,000, Gregory Meeks, (NY-6).

06. $24,000, Joseph Crowley (NY-7).

07. $24,500, Nancy Pelosi, (CA-8).

08. $24,000, Melissa Bean, (IL-8).

09. $22,500, Thomas Edwards, (TX-17).

10. $22,100, Joe Baca, (CA-43).

While such “contributions” may seem like a windfall to the folks back home struggling with high gas prices, for Congress’ well-connected industry “friends” its so much chump change.

As Washington Technology’s “2008 Top Government IT Contractors” detailed in May, telecoms fishing for taxpayer dollars have found the Bush regime a rather generous “partner” indeed. With contracts running the gamut from the Department of Defense to the 16 agencies comprising America’s intelligence “community”–overseen by Booz Allen Hamilton alumnus Michael McConnell (No. 11 on Washington Technology’s “Top 100″ with some $2,401,528,741 in government payouts)–its a sure bet the telecoms got exactly what they wanted, immunity, and at bargain basement prices to boot!

Clocking in at No. 14, ITT Corporation raked in $1,800,281,433; at No. 18, Verizon Communications Inc. “earned” $1,320,637,982; at No. 25, Sprint-Nextel scooped-up $839,946,000; at No. 51, Qwest Communications International Inc. “generously received” $306,617,000; at No. 60, Comtech Telecommunications Corporation “handled” $276,880,406 in generous donations; at No. 77, ViaSat Inc., hardly a slouch, “merited” $192,844,980 in NSA and “defense-related” largess.

As MAPLight’s Daniel Newman averred, “Who’s more likely to get a meeting you or AT&T, which donates million of dollars and has the legislator’s ear?”

Good question. But no matter how you divvy-up the spoils for gutting the Constitution and stripping Americans’ of privacy rights, you’d have to agree it’s still the best Congress money can buy!

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.