WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) sent a letter with 14 Congressional co-signers to President Barack Obama Sept. 15 demanding that he order regulators to settle the antitrust lawsuit that seeks to prevent the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
The letter, drawn completely from AT&T's playbook, parrots the claims that the merger would create jobs and expand high-speed wireless Internet access. Notably, AT&T was one of Shuler's top five contributors during the last two election cycles, donating at least $27,000 to Shuler's private political action committee (PAC), "3rd and Long," according to contribution reporting service, OpenSecrets.org.
Shuler, a one-time quarterback for the Washington Redskins, has been trying to make a name for himself as the new leader of what is referred to by some journalists and Washington insiders as the "Bluedog" Democrats. Shuler has been courting labor unions and large corporate sponsors to make this happen. One of the primary supporters of the merger is the Communications Workers of America (CWA). While the CWA is not one of Shuler's largest contributors, the union has officially endorsed his re-election and has sponsored "get out the vote" campaigns on his behalf.
In response to repeated requests for additional comments on Shuler's letter about the AT&T-T-Mobile merger, eWEEK was told that the congressman and his press staff were "unavailable."
But what's perhaps more interesting is that AT&T was also one of the top contributors to 12 of the 14 co-signers of Shuler's letter. Also notable is that the Blue Dog PAC, of which Shuler's former Chief of Staff Andrew Whalen is the group's political operations head, backed all 15 of the signers. In other words, Shuler controls the PAC that's one of the largest donors to each of the 15 members of Congress linked to the letter. Furthermore, AT&T is a donor to Shuler and 12 of the others, either directly or through their respective private PACs.
If all of this sounds complicated, welcome to the world of political campaign contributions. Here in Washington, money can flow through many channels, not all of them obvious and many of which are well hidden. In addition, the ways candidates receive money are varied. For example, nearly every politician in Washington has a private PAC that serves only to funnel money that they otherwise couldn't take into their re-election-and sometimes to other purposes. AT&T has donated millions of dollars into these PACs over the last election cycle and the current (2012) cycle. AT&T is not alone in its lobbying efforts and the current push to urge federal agencies to approve the merger is but one example of corporations attempting to influence political outcomes.