Dialing for Dollars–Telecom revisions ring up campaign contributions

Dialing for Dollars–Telecom revisions ring up campaign contributions

By Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

Dialing for Dollars–Telecom revisions ring up campaign contributions

Anyone who surfs the Internet, watches TV or uses a telephone will be directly affected by the impending re-write of the Illinois Telecommunications Act. This law, last seriously revised 10 years ago, determines the ground rules by which companies provide telecommunications services to Illinois residents. Not surprisingly, the re-write has attracted a lot of attention in Springfield, from legislators, the media and the companies involved.

Principal issues to be addressed in the re-write include competition in local telephone service, charges for basic, premium and cellular services, competition in cable TV services and competition in Internet access, especially through DSL and cable lines. The re-write will also affect the need for new area codes, performance standards for recently merged telecommunications providers, and 9-1-1 emergency services.

The re-write pits some of the largest corporations in America, also some of the largest political contributors in Illinois, against each other. All told, telecom businesses gave in excess of $1.4 million to political action committees in Illinois, between January 1, 1999 and March 31, 2001, including over $1.2 million to state candidates, $110,000 to local candidates, and $170,000 to federal PACs registered in Illinois. The clash of these corporate titans threatens to drown out the voices of ordinary consumers.

Each contributor followed slightly different strategies. Ameritech, the largest provider of local phone service in Illinois, is looking to protect its local market share while expanding into other areas. Ameritech gave over $452,800 to state PACs. It gave only slightly more to Republicans than to Democrats; anomalous in an industry that generally gave overwhelming support to Republicans. Ameritech’s donations to Democrats were largely concentrated on the two legislative party leaders, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Senate Democratic Leader Emil Jones accounted for 38 percent of all Democratic receipts. In contrast, House Republican Leader Lee Daniels and Senate President James “Pate” Philip took only 26 percent of all Republican contributions. Compared to other telecom companies, Ameritech gave a larger share of its donations to rank and file members of both parties. Ameritech also gave $10,600 to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and smaller donations to the Illinois Manufacturers PAC and the Illinois Hotel and Motel PAC.

AT&T is the nation’s largest provider of long-distance phone service and has long fought Ameritech for a bigger share of the local market. In direct giving to state politicians, AT&T favored Republicans 2:1. About one-third of AT&T’s Republican giving went to the two legislative leaders, while Democratic leaders accounted for about 15 percent of all Democratic receipts from AT&T. But the bulk of AT&T’s giving, over $290,000, went to the Illinois Cable TV Association PAC. AT&T’s affiliates in Illinois followed similar giving patterns. Media One, which merged with AT&T in June 2000, gave $1,250, all to Republicans. TCI combined with AT&T in March 1999, and gave over almost 8:1 to Republicans. Almost all of TCI’s Republican donations went to the leaders, while none of the Democratic money went to leaders.

Verizon, formed from the merger of GTE, the nation’s sixth-largest telecom company, and Bell Atlantic, the fourth-largest, wants to leverage its strong cellular phone position into both the local and long-distance markets. The company gave nearly three times as much to Republicans as to Democrats. Three of every five dollars given to Democrats went to the leaders, while about half of Republican contributions went to rank and filers.

The amount of contributions is striking. Most states forbid such large contributions, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, but Illinois has no limits on political giving by individuals, corporations or labor unions. Potentially lost in the discussion is the voice of consumers, who will be paying the bills for this plan for years to come.

Top Telecom Contributors to Illinois State Political Action Committees, 1999-2001 (through 3/30/01)

(1) SBC/Ameritech $452,800

(2) AT&T $438,500

(3) Verizon $151,900

(4) MCI $ 98,800

(5) Sprint $ 34,700

Top Recipients of Telecom Contributions

House Democrats:

Rep. Michael J. Madigan $81,000

Rep. Kurt Granberg $7,700

Rep. Phil Novak $7,450

House Republicans:

Rep. Lee Daniels $86,960

Rep. Carolyn Krause $6,550

Rep. Randall Hultgren $5,750

Senate Democrats:

Sen. Emil Jones $59,500

Sen. Terry Link $7,250

Sen. Denny Jacobs $6,900

Senate Republicans:

Sen. James ‘Pate’ Philip $127,850

Sen. Frank Watson $14,425

Sen. Steve Rauschenberger $13,050

This column is provided courtesy of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform in Chicago.

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