As the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission review the proposed merger of telecom giants AT&T and T-Mobile, the two companies are sinking millions of dollars into their lobbying shops. Recently filed disclosure reports show that AT&T spent $4.9 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2011, an increase of 58 percent from the same time period last year. Similarly, T-Mobile increased its lobbying expenditures from $602,000 in the second quarter of 2010 to $1 million in second quarter of 2011. All told, the two telecom companies have spent about $14 million on lobbying this year alone.
These numbers, however, offer an incomplete look at the AT&T/T-Mobile lobbying blitz. In the second quarter of this year the two companies spent about $1.3 million on outside lobbying firms that worked to boost government support for the merger. And those outside firms boast some heavy hitters who are going to bat for the increasingly controversial telecom deal. All told, AT&T and T-Mobile have no fewer than six former members of Congress, and a bevy of former congressional staffers, lobbying the federal government to approve the merger.
This lobbying build-up comes as the merger, which had once been viewed as almost inevitable, runs into resistance from Capitol Hill and progressive advocacy groups. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), head of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, announced his opposition to the deal, saying it would be "highly dangerous to competition and consumers" and urging the FCC to block the merger. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has also come out against the deal, warning that it would create "an effective duopoly" that will "dictate the rules of the road for wireless networks." Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to the FCC and the Justice Department in which they called the merger "a retrenchment from nearly two decades of promoting competition and open markets."
If the merger were to be approved, AT&T and Verizon would control roughly 80 percent of all wireless carrier contracts. AT&T says the deal will not negatively impact competition and will increase service and spectrum availability for customers. Advocacy groups like Free Press, however, argue that those increases will occur whether the merger happens or not, and customers will be stuck with price increases if the deal goes through.
AT&T's massive lobbying operation is headed up by James Cicconi, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with deep political connections and wide-reaching influence. Last year, AT&T added about 90 lobbyists to its ranks, including several prominent former lawmakers, such as former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), both of whom served on the Senate Commerce Committee. Disclosure records show that AT&T paid the Breaux Lott Leadership Group $120,000 to lobby the House and the Senate on "issues related to" the T-Mobile merger.
Breaux and Lott are the big names, but AT&T has a deep bench of Congressional alumni lobbying for the merger. From Alston & Bird, AT&T paid $50,000 for the services of former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), who served on the House Commerce Committee. JC Watts Companies (founded by former Oklahoma Republican Rep. J.C. Watts), was paid $50,000 to have former Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA) lobby Congress. Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld have dispatched former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-CA) to lobby the House and Senate on "policy issues related to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger." Former Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL), from Holland & Knight, is also lobbying Congress in support of the merger. In total, AT&T paid these four lobbying firms $380,000 in the second quarter.
Backing up the former elected officials are a brigade of congressional staffers-turned-lobbyists. The Gibson Group and its principal, Joseph Gibson, the former chief of staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and former chief anti-trust counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, were paid $50,000 by AT&T. From the TCH Group, two former GOP Senate aides and a former staffer on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were paid $40,000. Wiley Rein, the law firm representing T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom in their push to have the Justice Department approve the merger, has also deployed former Congressional staffers Gregg Elias and Peter Krug to lobby for the merger on AT&T's behalf.
T-Mobile, while clearly subordinate to AT&T in terms of resources and influence, is nonetheless bringing some insider clout to the merger review. T-Mobile's in-house lobbying shop features Anthony Russo, formerly counsel to Sen. Joe Biden (pre-VP days), and Michelle Persaud, who served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. The six outside lobbying firms T-Mobile hired to push the merger (at a cost of $260,000) boast the former chief of staff to then-House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), Trent Lott's former chief of staff, the former chief counsel to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the former chief of staff to former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN).
Below is a list of lobbying firms or lobbyists that listed AT&T or T-Mobile as a client and lobbied for the merger in the second quarter of 2011, with links to their disclosure forms.