Telecom industry's political contributions remain in the spotlight

A number of top US companies – including telecom heavyweights AT&T, Verizon and Comcast – made a splash in January by freezing their political contributions to Washington lawmakers after President Trump incited a mob that attacked the US Capitol.

But some companies have quietly resumed their financing activities, while others remain in the limelight for related issues.

For example, CNBC reported in January that T-Mobile said it would "reevaluate" its PAC (political action committee) contributions following the attack on the US Capitol. But the Financial Times reported that T-Mobile in February was among the companies that made the maximum legal contributions to financial vehicles supporting Republican candidates. The publication noted it was an early sign that corporate America may be restarting donations to the party after halting them in the wake of the US Capitol attacks.

More recently, a report from a left-leaning political group called Public Citizen named AT&T as the top corporate financier of Republican lawmakers around the country who have supported bills targeting the voting process. As the New York Times reports, such legislation – passed in Georgia and pending in Florida, Texas and potentially elsewhere – generally stems from the same "it was rigged" voting claims that Trump used to incite the US Capitol insurrection in January.

AT&T CEO John Stankey defended the company's actions.

"We understand that election laws are complicated, not our company's expertise and ultimately the responsibility of elected officials. But, as a company, we have a responsibility to engage," Stankey said, according to Deadline. "For this reason, we are working together with other businesses through groups like the Business Roundtable to support efforts to enhance every person's ability to vote. In this way, the right knowledge and expertise can be applied to make a difference on this fundamental and critical issue."

Public Citizen disagrees with that position. The organization reported that AT&T has donated more than $810,000 to lawmakers supporting such legislation during the past five years.

"Today's proposed voting restrictions are cloaked in rhetoric of deterring voter fraud. But this rationale is a ruse, as cases of voter fraud are extremely rare, a fact well known to supporters of voter suppression measures," Public Citizen argued. "Trump, himself, established a commission during his presidency to document cases of voter fraud. He then abruptly shut down the commission after its search came up empty."

An AT&T spokesperson clarified to Light Reading that "our employee PACs continue to adhere to their policy adopted on January 11 of suspending contributions to the re-election campaigns of members of Congress who voted to object to the certification of Electoral College votes."

It's unclear how major US corporations, including those in the telecom industry – might navigate the topic in the months and years to come. After all, hanging over the issue are ongoing political debates about telecom rate regulation and broadband funding.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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