10 January 2011

If you want to follow the net neutrality money, follow all the money

This spreadsheet purports to show, as its title suggests, "The Money Behind Blackburn's Anti-Neutrality Bill." This is a reference to Rep. Marsha Blackburn's bill H.R.96 "To prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from further regulating the Internet."  The spreadsheet shows the bill's 59 co-sponsors along with a tally of donations from AT&T, Koch Industries, Comcast, Verizon, NCTA, Qwest, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Obviously, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Qwest are involved in the telecommunications industry. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA)  is an industry group, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a pro-business organization. Unless I am mistaken, Koch Industries is not directly involved in the telecommunications industry, but is associated with its founders, the Koch brothers, who are well-known contributors to a variety of conservative causes.  So, a small objection here: including this money as "telecom" money isn't really accurate.  It would be the equivalent of picking an unrelated union and including their contributions among the net neutrality supporters.  But that's a fight for another day, as it has little significance on the outcome.

This information on this spreadsheet comes from (and directly links to) Open Secrets, a website that tracks political contributions. It is important to note the disclaimer regarding these contributions:
The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organization's PAC, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.
The spreadsheet does explicitly include this disclaimer, but curiously not the phrase, "[t]he organizations themselves did not donate..." which is bold, red, and italicized on Open Secrets.

It is also important to note that these contributions go back as far as 1989; these totals are not "new" contributions specifically related to this bill, but the cumulative amounts over (for most of the co-sponsors) multiple terms.  Also, all of this money is reported for 2010 and earlier, so no reporting of new money has yet taken place.  Yet Blackburn's bill was only introduced this month.

Still, it attempts to show that money from the telecommunications industry is funneled to (mostly) Republican candidates who are attempting to prevent the FCC from regulating net neutrality (the conservative Democrat Dan Boren is a co-sponsor).

But what about those in Congress who explicitly support net neutrality legislation? What does their money trail look like? Let's take our first example, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who introduced a strong pro-net neutrality bill last session.  Using the same Open Secrets data, we find among Rep. Waxman's top 20 contributors:

Time Warner $63,000
NCTA $47,000
AT&T $44,000

These $154,000 in contributions alone would place Waxman 6th on the list of Blackburn's co-sponsors.

The former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), a strong supporter of net neutrality, amassed aover $150,000 solely from Time Warner and Verizon.

The largest recipient of money from the telecommunications industry in the 111th Congress? Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), a supporter of net neutrality, who received $98,400 in just one session (2009-10).

While net neutrality is not necessarily a purely partisan issue, you'll find that generally speaking, Democrats tend to support legislation to regulate net neutrality, while Republicans tend to oppose it.  But, when you look at the party breakdown of total contributions from the telecommunications industry during the 111th Congress, the money is nearly 50/50 to both parties.

I agree that it's important to follow the money in order to help establish connections.  But to suggest that years of contributions to just one side of an issue represents the money behind a bill only introduced this month is stretching this connection beyond all recognition.  This approach is also simplistic because it supposes that net neutrality is the only issue of importance to telecom donors.  Additionally, following the money on one side without regard for the other misuses the data.  Money from the telecoms is headed, more or less equally, to both sides of the net neutrality debate, and ignoring one side of the money trail to advance a position on the other side is disingenuous.
Post a Comment