Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- AT&T Inc. feted lawmakers at Washington restaurants offering $52 steaks and a $15 “Lobbyist’s Libation” made of gin and cucumber puree as the company sought U.S. approval to buy T-Mobile USA Inc.
The parties, carrying $1,000 admission charges and aimed at replenishing congressional campaign coffers, were held as the largest U.S. phone company sought regulators’ blessing for the $39 billion deal. On Aug. 31, the Justice Department sued to block the transaction, saying it would harm competition.
The litigation marks a rare setback for AT&T, long a leading Washington power. The Dallas-based company boosted lobbying spending by 30 percent to $11.7 million in the first six months of 2011 compared with a year earlier, Senate records show. AT&T’s political action committee gave $805,500 to federal candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group.
“The one thing you can say about their losing is that it wasn’t for a lack of lobbyists,” Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes government transparency, said in an interview. “They left no stone unturned.”
AT&T supplemented its own in-house lobbyists with 18 outside firms pushing for the merger, Senate records show. The firm of former U.S. senators John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, and Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, received $240,000. A company headed by former U.S. Representative J.C. Watts, an Oklahoma Republican, got $100,000.
Former House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin’s firm was paid $50,000, while Wiley Rein LLP, a law firm on Washington’s K Street co-founded by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Richard Wiley, received $160,000.
Clyburn Consulting LLC, where the principal is William Clyburn Jr., a cousin to Representative James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, received $60,000. James Clyburn is father of Mignon Clyburn, one of three Democrats on the FCC. The agency is continuing its review of the merger.
William Clyburn hasn’t contacted the commissioner about the AT&T merger, Dave Grimaldi, Mignon Clyburn’s chief of staff, said in an interview. William Clyburn didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.
AT&T’s political action committee, which funnels employees’ contributions to lawmakers’ campaigns, was the most generous corporate PAC this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. Congress doesn’t play a direct role in merger approval. Lawmakers may seek to influence the regulatory agencies.
House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over telecommunications policy, each received $5,000 from AT&T’s PAC.
The head of AT&T’s Washington office, Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi, last year donated $1,500 to Boehner, $2,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and $1,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Giving by AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson since 2009 has included $2,000 to Boehner, $6,000 to the Republican senatorial committee and $4,000 to the Republican congressional committee, the center’s records show.
AT&T’s contributions this year have split 64 percent to Republicans and 36 percent to Democrats, compared with a breakdown of 55 percent Republican and 45 percent Democratic in the previous election cycle of 2009-2010.
AT&T hosted at least nine fundraising receptions and dinners since the deal was announced on March 20, according to invitations collected by the Sunlight Foundation and posted on its website.
The Lobbyist’s Libation cocktail is available at Charlie Palmer Steak, at the foot of Capitol Hill, where AT&T and one of its outside firms, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, shared hosting duties for a June 14 fundraising dinner for Representative Henry Waxman, of California, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
AT&T’s PAC has given Waxman $4,000 so far this year, and Akin Gump’s PAC gave him $1,200. Akin Gump received $240,000 this year to lobby on behalf of the merger and other issues.
BLT Steak, which touts its location in the same neighborhood as the White House, offers a $52 New York strip steak, oysters at $34 a dozen, and for $10 a dessert of lavender ice cream. It was the scene of a June 21 fundraising dinner hosted by AT&T for Representative Peter Roskam, an Illinois Republican who sits on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Roskam received $3,500 from AT&T’s PAC.
“Whenever you have an interest that’s hiring a lot of lobbyists and pushing a public policy position, you’re going to see them hosting a lot of fundraisers,” said Allison, of the Sunlight Foundation.
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