We’re a couple of days late commenting on this story from Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, but when I saw it I immediately thought of the OC Register’s editorial writer Brian Calle who laments the $6 million the California Teacher’s Association annually spends on lobbying as atrocious. Calle, in his anti-union editorials, needs to first look for the other shoe in order to drop it but seldom reports on the lobbying activities of big business. And big business lobbying doesn’t just benefit Republicans; Democratic elected have their hands out too.
Lobbying funds spent by AT&T in Sacramento only are three times what the leading union organization spends on lobbying. Other big businesses also spend considerably more than unions on lobbying. Now you have to believe that ratepayers subsidize these lobbying efforts through their phone bills and other services we use from AT&T, and I struggle to see why or how big business lobbying is someone less evil than union lobbying efforts.
From the Times story:
A handful of labor unions and trade groups have spent more on a combination of lobbying and direct political giving, but state records show that in the last seven years, no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T. At the same time, a tide of consumer protections has ebbed and the company has been unshackled from the watchful eye of state regulators.
Efforts to force phone companies to be more transparent about fees on cellphone bills died; so did an attempt to end monthly charges to unlist a phone number. The charge for that kind of privacy rose sixfold in a three-year period, and those fees generate $50 million annually for AT&T, according to a 2009 legislative analysis.
State controls on land-line pricing were eliminated. And in 2010, legislation to make it easier for consumers to stop receiving the phone book — another revenue source — was defeated after fierce opposition from AT&T. The bill received just 12 votes in the 40-member state Senate, the scarcest support for any measure that reached the Senate floor that year. This year, AT&T is part of a coalition of telecom and high-tech companies seeking to strip state regulators of authority over some basic telephone services.
Tickets for the Speaker’s Cup, to be held May 5-6 this year, average more than $12,000 per person. Some legislators donate to the cause from their campaign funds; otherwise they pay nothing for a weekend that, in addition to world-class golf, features free-flowing wine and four-star cuisine. Body wraps and hot-stone massages are de rigueur.
AT&T spent more than $225,000 on last year’s event. The goody bags contained a new iPad with a thank-you note signed jointly by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and AT&T’s chief of government relations.
From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.
In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.
And both parities are beneficiaries of AT&T’s Lobbying efforts. The Times had a chart of other big business lobbying expenses which also trump what the CTA spends. To put this in perspective, total union lobbying expenses total about $9 million annually — half as much as AT&T spends alone.
So we’ll pose this to Mr. Calle: is lobbying expenditures bad or only union lobbying expenditures?