AT&T Cheerleading Squad for Merger: Nearly 100 Lobbyists

2016-10-25 21:32:14

 

AT&T Cheerleading Squad for Merger: Nearly 100 Lobbyists

WASHINGTON — From the political right and the left, AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner has provoked pushback. But AT&T, in addition to its billions of dollars of capital, has another arsenal at its disposal: one of the most formidable lobbying operations in Washington.

The company’s list of nearly 100 registered lobbyists already on retainer in 2016 includes former members of Congress. AT&T is the biggest donor to federal lawmakers and their causes among cable and cellular telecommunications companies, with its employees and political action committee sending money to 374 of the House’s 435 members and 85 of the Senate’s 100 members this election cycle. That adds up to more than $11.3 million in donations since 2015, four times as much as Verizon Communications, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

AT&T has also spent decades building a national alliance of local government officials and nonprofit groups — particularly from black and Hispanic communities — that it will certainly be asking to weigh in again in Washington, as it tries to get the merger approved.

“We have seen our fair share of deals,” AT&T’s general counsel, David R. McAtee II, said in an interview. “Our job is informing consumers what a good development this is for them.”

But navigating this transaction will be a test of just how much influence AT&T has in Washington these days, especially as it tries to persuade antitrust officials at the United States Department of Justice, who will be crucial in approving the deal. The task may be particularly tricky as AT&T’s lobbying team undergoes a transition after losing its longtime leader, James W. Cicconi, a former aide to President George H. W. Bush.

For AT&T, the regulatory environment around megadeals has also soured. Antitrust officials have muscled up in recent years, blocking dozens of deals across industries including pharmaceuticals and retail. Other prominent telecommunications deals have imploded even after huge lobbying efforts, most notably Comcast’s attempt to buy Time Warner Cable in 2014 and AT&T’s bid in 2011 to buy T-Mobile, a cellular telephone competitor.

Issues that led to the collapse of those deals seem even more prevalent now, as the nation closes out a presidential campaign that has featured candidates from both parties — most notably Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders — promising to challenge corporate power.

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