Common Cause Study Highlight’s Verizon’s $53 Million In Campaign Donations and Lobbying Expenses As Company Looks to Overturn “Net Neutrality”

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  • Dale Eisman

As Verizon prepares to head to federal court in its fight for authority to impose new fees on customers to access certain websites and online applications, a new report by Common Cause shows the telecommunications giant has invested more than $53 million since 2010 to lobby and help elect President Obama and members of Congress that it likely will look to for support.

“Millions of Americans write checks to Verizon every month to secure their connections to the Internet,” said Todd O’Boyle, director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Verizon, meanwhile, is writing checks to secure its connections to lawmakers and enhance its influence on their decision-making.”

Verizon will be in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday as it seeks to replace today’s ‘Net Neutrality’ with an online pricing regime that will permit it to charge consumers extra for access to the sites and use of the applications they want most.

The study, “Goodbye Open Internet,” documents the special attention the company has paid to Obama and legislative leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and his predecessor, former Rep. Roy Blunt (now a senator), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as to members of four congressional committees charged with developing the laws governing its business.

The President’s re-election campaign and groups tied to it have been the largest single recipients of the company’s aid, the study found, taking in nearly $224,000. Obama has spoken repeatedly of his support for Net Neutrality but the issue received little attention during his successful re-election drive last year and he’s had little to say about it during his second term. Tom Wheeler, Obama’s recently confirmed nominee to head the FCC, also has given few hints of how he’ll manage the issue.

Meanwhile in Congress, Verizon has invested heavily in leaders like Boehner ($33,000 over the past two elections), and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer ($50,800 during the same period) as well as members of four committees – Judiciary plus Energy and Commerce in the House and Commerce, Science and Transportation plus Judiciary in the Senate – that are responsible for laws regulating it.

The committee members received Verizon-linked contributions of more than $1.2 million over the past two election cycles; some $527,000 of that came in the form of donations totaling $10,000 or more to each of 28 committee members.

The report links Verizon’s political campaign and lobbying spending to its ongoing legal battle with the Federal Communications Commission over Net Neutrality. The company was actively involved in the FCC’s development of “Third Way,” a compromise Internet regulatory framework approved in 2010, but now argues in court that the plan imposes “potentially sweeping and unneeded regulations on broadband networks and services and on the Internet itself.”

While the FCC, not Congress, has direct responsibility for regulating Verizon and other Internet service providers, the report argues that the effects of Verizon’s lobbying and political spending are felt at the commission as well as on Capitol Hill. The study recounts how a 2010 attempt by the FCC to toughen Open Internet rules prompted 73 House Democrats to send the commission an outraged and misinformation-stuffed letter seeking to head the action off at the pass.

The report also notes that FCC Commissioners and staffers often jump directly from the FCC into lucrative private sector jobs influencing their former associates in government. Former FCC Chief-of-Staff Kathryn Brown, for instance, has worked as a Senior VP for Verizon since 2002, while Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker ended her tenure in 2011 and took a high-ranking post at Comcast subsidiary NBC Universal.

View the full report here.