Representative Pete Olson and 99 fellow House Republicans signed a letter yesterday urging the Obama administration to resolve a government lawsuit and let AT&T Inc. buy T-Mobile USA Inc.
All but one of the 100 lawmakers has received political donations from AT&T employees since 2009, according to a Bloomberg review of campaign finance records. The letter signers took in $963,275, Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Washington-based advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in an e-mail.
“AT&T’s congressional support for its takeover of T-Mobile comes at a price,” Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a merger opponent, said in an e-mailed statement.
AT&T is working to rescue its $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile from a U.S. lawsuit that seeks to block the transaction as anticompetitive. The company is challenging a Justice Department conclusion that the merger would bring higher prices, and it is exploring compromises to satisfy regulators’ concerns.
Tomorrow, Olson, a Texas Republican, is to attend a Washington fundraising luncheon backed by AT&T lobbyists. Suggested contributions of $2,500, $1,000 or $500 go to the Olson for Congress Committee, according to an invitation e-mailed around Washington and obtained by Bloomberg.
The “Telecommunications Industry Lunch” at the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican institution one block from the U.S. Capitol, shows AT&T buying influence as it seeks to salvage the T-Mobile deal, according to Public Knowledge.
AT&T isn’t sponsoring tomorrow’s lunch, Melissa Kelly, a spokeswoman for Olson, said in an e-mail.
“They have been a long time supporter of Congressman Olson and employ thousands of people in the State of Texas,” Kelly said. “This letter simply urges the President to focus on creating jobs in America and bringing other jobs back from overseas to further strengthen our economic recovery.”
Olson and his colleagues in yesterday’s letter to President Barack Obama said the U.S. should reach a settlement that lets the merger proceed. The Justice Department in its Aug. 31 lawsuit said the transaction would lessen competition by eliminating one of the four largest U.S. wireless carriers.
The lawsuit “will thwart job creation and economic growth and undermine your own efforts to achieve our shared goal” of economic recovery, the Republicans said in their letter. AT&T last month offered to bring 5,000 call-center jobs back to the U.S. once the deal closes.
The first hearing in the case was set for today before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in Washington.
Help by Attending
J. Barry Hutchison, an AT&T assistant vice president who once worked for former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, urged contacts to attend the Olson luncheon in an e-mail obtained by Bloomberg. “Pete has been a leader on the Energy and Commerce Committee and I hope you can help him by attending,” according to the e-mail.
Hutchison and Michael Balmoris, a Washington-based AT&T spokesman, didn’t respond to an e-mail and telephone call seeking comment.
The Olson-led letter is one of at least three to the Obama administration from Congress since early September. Of the letters’ 117 signers, 116 have received campaign contributions from AT&T employees, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
“That’s why AT&T is so effective on Capitol Hill,” Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in an interview. “The game isn’t just lobbying activity, it’s making sure there’s an extensive fundraising apparatus that goes on full time. That’s exactly what played out here.”
Three Republicans including Representative Fred Upton, of Michigan, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a Sept. 8 letter asked for a briefing from the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, which is conducting a separate review.
AT&T employees have given Upton $96,600 since 1989, the earliest records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That is his largest source of campaign donations. Another signer of the Sept. 8 letter, Representative Joe Barton of Texas, has received $97,559 from AT&T employees since 1989. The third signer, Representative Greg Walden, of Oregon, first elected in 1998, has received $56,000.
In a Sept. 15 letter, 15 Democrats led by Representative Heath Shuler, of North Carolina, said the Justice Department should agree to a settlement of the lawsuit “that ensures robust competition” while preserving the deal’s benefits. Shuler has received $24,000 from AT&T employees since 2005.
The Justice Department in a Sept. 19 letter rejected the lawmakers’ request for a briefing.
Such a meeting “may jeopardize our law enforcement efforts, as well as inescapably creating the risk that the public and the courts will perceive undue political and Congressional influence,” Ronald Weich, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said in the letter.
Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, declined to comment.
“AT&T is painting a false picture with its promise of job creation,” Vonya McCann, senior vice president for government affairs at Sprint Nextel Corp., said in a statement yesterday. “This acquisition will almost certainly lead to the elimination of thousands of American jobs.”