Political Party Time

As AT&T lobbyists push for merger, some also steer campaign money

With AT&T and T-Mobile lobbyists already trying to influence Congress on the companies' recent proposal to merge, many of the lobbyists are also helping members of Congress raise money in Washington.

The proposed deal, which brings together the second and fourth largest wireless carriers in the U.S., raises questions about market competition. Because AT&T is sure to face a tough road towards approval, it is also an opportunity for AT&T—which spent over $15 million lobbying the federal government last year—to flex its juggernaut lobbying operation.

In the next few weeks, AT&T’s PAC has planned to host fundraisers for at least three members of Congress and two of the events are hosted by veteran lobbyist Gregg Hartley of Cassidy and Associates, who lobbies for both AT&T and T-Mobile. Those two events are co-hosted by the PAC for the Assisted Living Federation of America, also represented by Hartley's firm.

Hartley and AT&T’s PAC are both listed as draws to a fundraiser for Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., tomorrow. The company’s PAC is also hosting a dinner for Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., scheduled at the same time. A third event is for Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., in early May.

Since the merger announcement on March 20, AT&T has also snapped up five new lobbyists to work on the merger, including two lobbyists from Peck, Madigan, et al with ties to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be holding a hearing to review the merger on May 11. One is a Democratic lobbyist Jeffrey Peck, a former staff director for the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the other is Sean Richardson, a former chief of staff to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who sits on the antitrust panel.  The two lobbyists were among the hosts for a Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., fundraiser in January.

AT&T is the second highest donor to members of Congress between 1989 through 2010, at over $46 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, including nearly $4 million last election cycle, which comprises donations from the company’s PAC and individuals connected with the organization.

Last election cycle, the company’s PAC gave the maximum $10,000 donation to Bono Mack and Camp, the new Ways and Means Committee chairman, who is holding a fundraiser hosted by Hartley, according to CRP. Just $3,500 went to Wicker’s campaign pool.

Hartley may be an important commodity among the over 90 lobbyists working on behalf of AT&T last year. As the chief of staff to then-House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., now a senator, Blunt’s office was in charge of reaching out to K Street, Bloomberg reported in 2006.

Over Twitter messages, Hartley has demonstrated his access to high-level policymakers.

He wrote that, on Jan. 25, he and T-Mobile CEO Phillipp Humm met House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in his third floor office, which, by the way, has a great view and a roaring fire.

On Mar. 14, he tweeted that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to Cassidy and Associates for a breakfast, where they discussed policy issues such as the budget. Last week, he tweeted about breakfast with Cantor. On March 16, he wrote about dinner with McConnell about a lunch with Wicker.

Hartley could not be reached for comment and is overseas right now.  Wicker and Camp’s offices did not respond to requests for comment and there was no answer at a phone number for Bono Mack’s campaign office.

Thursday’s "beer and burgers" fundraiser for Wicker attempts to raise $1,000 or $2,500 per attendee. The hosts also include two other AT&T lobbyists—former top National Republican Campaign Committee official Dan Mattoon, who has his own firm, and Dan Gans of Polaris Government Relations.

A spokesman for AT&T, Michael Balmoris, declined to comment for this post.

Committee work

The merger will face reviews from the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to reject the merger. It will also face scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Peck and Richardson's experience may come in handy. AT&T and T-Mobile lobbyists, consumer groups, and others have already begun calling the committee, a source said, and the committee has begun examining how the merger would affect competition.

The May 11 hearing, chaired by antitrust panel chairman Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., is called “AT&T/T-Mobile Merger: Is Humpty Dumpty Being Put Back Together Again?”

The House Judiciary Committee will also be holding a hearing. Each chamber’s commerce committees, where Wicker and Bono Mack sit, are also likely to examine the merger. Though each of their committees have not scheduled hearings as of now, House Energy and Commerce chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and subcommittee chair Greg Walden, R-Ore., released a statement after the merger announcement saying the committee would like to examine the FCC transaction review process, “in light of its dual–and often times conflicting–role to provide both transaction approvals and industry regulations.”