Texas congressmen, recipients of AT&T cash, dial in support for T-Mobile merger
A Texas congressman is behind a letter sent to President Barack Obama last month disagreeing with the U.S. Department of Justice’s choice to block the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, a deal that would give the nation’s largest wireless carrier an even greater share of the market.
He’s also one of a few GOP lawmakers from Texas whose campaigns have benefited greatly from the company’s political action arms.
Penned by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) and signed by 99 other House GOP lawmakers, including 16 from Texas, the letter stresses the job creation that would result from the $39 billion takeover — a claim some industry experts don’t buy.
While the DOJ characterized the deal as anti-competitive and an impediment to quality, fair pricing and innovation, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle continue to support the merger.
Finance records show the majority of those vocal advocates are the recipients of AT&T campaign cash.
As the Texas Independent previously reported 66 of the more than 70 signatories of a similar letter drafted by Democratic lawmakers, including a handful of Texas legislators, received a combined half-million dollars in campaign contributions from the Dallas-based telecom giant in the most recent election cycle. An analysis of federal campaign records show AT&T similarly backed supporters of the GOP version.
According to Federal Election Campaign finance disclosures, all the Texas lawmakers who signed the letter received thousands from AT&T’s PAC over the years, for a combined total of more than half a million dollars.
U.S Representatives Joe Barton ($63,000), Pete Sessions ($60,000), Ralph Hall ($59,000) and John Carter ($55,000) were among the top AT&T beneficiaries, with others not far behind.
Michael Burgess ($47,500), John Culberson ($47,000), Michael McCaul ($47,000) and Michael Conaway ($42,500) also saw donations from AT&T’s PAC during their time in office.
Additionally, questions were raised when reporters discovered AT&T lobbyists were promoting a fundraiser for Olson on the same day he sent out the letter in support of the merger. It was requested that PACs willing to help host the event pay $2,500.
A spokeswoman for Olson told the National Journal there was “no connection between the letter and the fundraiser,” and stressed the event was not hosted by AT&T, but did acknowledge the company’s donations to the lawmaker.
In the letter, lawmakers say blocking the deal would “thwart job creation and economic growth,” a core sentiment relayed by other advocates of the merger like Texas governor and GOP presidential contender Rick Perry, who sent a letter of his own to the FCC in support of the deal. AT&T has doled out $692,195 in donations to Perry.
AT&T claims the deal will produce some 96,000 openings, but groups including the D.C.-based digital rights interest group Public Knowledge — and the DOJ itself — have debunked that assertion, saying the deal would actually fail to protect American jobs.
Historically, AT&T mergers have led to a destruction in jobs numbers, said Public Knowledge communications director Art Brodsky. Over the past decade, AT&T has cut 10,000 jobs each year — a trend expected to accelerate if the merger passes federal muster. Along with the job loss, he said, the merger would also shrink an already limited wireless market, reducing the availability of less expensive or more reliable providers. The multi-billion dollar deal, Brosdky said, would signal “a complete dismantling of the country’s anti-trust enforcement.”
The link between the telecommunication giant’s generous donations and lawmakers’ support is “blatant,” he said.
“Ultimately, it’s their constituency that is going to hurt,” he said. “When you have one company owning 80 percent of the cellular market, prices will go up, service will go down, phones and plan availability will lessen. The consequences of a concentrated market to constituents should be held paramount to the welfare of the companies that give them money.”
“But in Congress if they can, they like to bestow favors to their home team,” he added, “And for AT&T, Texas is the home team.”