CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1994 //

Jacking in from the "Mo' Money" Port:


Washington, DC -- Telecommunications and entertainment companies poured $5.54 million into campaign warchests during the first 18 months of the 1992-1994 election cycle, according to a computer-assisted analysis of campaign contributions from the Federal Election Commission.

The Communications & Electronics sector gave a total of $9.71 million in campaign contributions through their Political Action Committees (PAC) during the full 1990-1992 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

The sector includes local and long distance telephone companies, communications equipment makers, broadcasters, cable operators and entertainment companies.

Although telecommunications reform was one of the hottest topics during the run of the 103rd Congress, PAC contributions were down 15 percent this election cycle, compared with the same time frame during the 1990-1992 cycle, according to CRP.

PACs may have been holding back their contributions until late in the election cycle in a strategic move to gauge how several of the campaigns were fairing, said Joshua Goldstein, who tracks contributions for CRP.

Republicans stand to gain a substantial number of seats in both the House and Senate. Political strategists say there's an outside chance the GOP could regain control of both.

The battle for the heart and soul of the local loop is reflected in the PAC spending patterns. Of the top 15 PAC contributors, 10 come from the telephone industry. These 10 PACs contributed $2.6 million, or 44 percent of all the money from the Communications & Entertainment sector during this cycle.

PACs are always important players, able to give up to $5,000 per election cycle. Incumbents usually reap the lion's share of the contributions.

With Democrats holding both the House and Senate, it's no surprise that the telephone companies, which have given $3 million during this cycle, have favored Democrats (55.9 percent) over Republicans (44.1 percent).

Media and entertainment companies have given $1.34 million during the same time, but have heavily favored Democrats (61.7 percent) vs. Republicans (38.3 percent). This group includes Hollywood, which traditionally favors Democratic candidates.

The top House recipient during the first 18 months was Rep. Jack Fields (R-Tex.) with $167,896. Fields is the ranking minority member on the Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee. He cosponsored the telecommunications reform act in the House with Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.). Markey doesn't accept PAC donations.

The top Senate recipient is Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who sits on influential Communications Subcommittee, where the telecommunications reform act was first hatched. Burns, elected in 1988 with 52 percent of the vote, is in a hotly contested battle for his job.

Legislators and PAC officials insist campaign contributions don't influence votes or buy favors. However, as the political winds have shifted in Washington, with the GOP sensing it might win big, Republican leaders have been practically brow beating PACs, telling them they want the money now rather than later, after their candidates are the incumbents.

House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) set off mild controversy in Washington a month ago when warned a group of business PACs -- including those from the communications and entertainment industries -- that a continued show of force to "prop up" Democrat incumbents would result in "the two coldest years in Washington" they'd seen in recent history if control of the Hill were wrested from the Dems to the GOP.

But PAC officials say they don't respond to pressure tactics. However, during a GOP luncheon during the second week of October, Fields and Gingrich raked in $110,500 in contributions, with 90 percent of those coming from 12 communications companies.

Just how important these PACs are to the overall political agenda can be seen in a largely overlooked transaction. This year, several Baby Bells spent millions to "clean up" their image for the public, by going to "a single branded name" and doing away with local telephone company names. The almost 100 year old Chesepeak & Potomic Telephone Co. became simply, "Bell Atlantic." And "Bell of Pennsylvania" became "Bell Atlantic--Pennslyvania."

Overlooked apparently -- or not -- were the political arms of these local phone companies. Local phone companies contributed PAC money under their old names, not the new "corporate identity" name. After all, a Senator or Representative should know exactly where the money is coming from, no? Yeah, I thought so.

Are these campaign contributions just "good government" -- as one telephone company official asserted -- or something more?

"If you want me to tell you that our money buys us a vote on a particular bill at a particular time, I say: 'Fuck You,' it doesn't," according to a prominent lobbyist for one of the regional telephone companies.

"However, if you ask me, 'Do we get better access because of a couple of $1,000 checks?' I'll guarantee you that two grand gets us in the door and gets our telephone calls returned before Joe Blow from the home office," he said. "And it sure as hell gets our calls returned before yours."

Meeks out...