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Shills R Us: Organizations That Get AT&T Cash Endorse its Mega-Merger with T-Mobile

A growing number of nonprofits are recipients of AT&T grants; are they violating their IRS nonprofit status by shilling for the company's interests?

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The leading telecommunications conglomerates that make up the Communications Trust, and AT&T in particular, are masters at using civil rights and other nonprofit groups as fronts in their public deception campaigns.  We saw the same game played out last year with Comcast’s take over of NBC-Universal.  Comcast co-opted a variety of civil rights groups who were beneficiaries of its corporate largesse, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).  These groups lobbied on behalf of Comcast and NBC.  Last year’s regulatory Noh play was acted out flawlessly and succeeded without a hitch.  This year’s charade is running into a little more turbulence.  

The Communications Trust has built an effective army to wage its consolidation campaigns.  It has united Washington think tanks, high-paid lobbyists, obsequious public relations firms, fictitious “astroturf” organizations, talking-head hucksters and mainstream media spin masters in singing the praises and promoting the special interests of the new American trusts.  Politicians and regulators dutifully roll over.

Most remarkable, all this support comes cheap, involving only empty promises, modest cash grants and pathetic photo-ops.  All-too-many hungry nonprofits will do almost anything for a buck and their actions, sadly, most often negatively affect their core constituencies.  [see “ How AT&T, Verizon and the Telecom Giants Have Captured the Regulator Supposed to Control Them ,” Posted on Jan 8, 2011]

This time, things are not working out according to the preordained script, as evident in the fate of GLAAD’s president.  Nevertheless, many other nonprofits have joined the AT&T bandwagon.  Among the 300 or so backing the merger are the American Foundation for the Blind, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Puerto Rican Coalition and United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  The Communications Workers of America and the AFL-CIO as well as Facebook, Oracle and Yahoo support the merger.

AT&T has very, very deep pockets to help its friends and punish its foes.  It is reported that, in 2009, the AT&T Foundation doled out over $60 million to nonprofits and other causes.  In addition, in 2010, AT&T paid out nearly $20 million to influence the political process and legislative decisions; it contributed $3.7 million to America’s two major political parties (56% to Republicans) and another $15.4 million to lobbying activities.  During the first three months of 2011, AT&T spent $6.8 million on lobbyists and in to lawyers related to the T-Mobile deal.  And every penny of this corporate largesse comes out of the over-charges imposed on AT&T’s customers. [Source: Center for Responsive Politics and OpenSecrets]

The NAACP is one of AT&T’s strongest supporters, even though its members pay dearly for AT&T’s services.  In 2009, the century-old civil rights organization received over $1 million and, according to various sources, has benefited even more over the last two years.

“AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile has the potential to benefit consumers, communities and workers alike,” proclaimed Hilary O. Shelton, Director, of NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy.  This assertion, based on no data, was further qualified: “We are hopeful that this acquisition will further advance increased access to affordable and sustainable wireless broadband services and in turn stimulate job creation and civic engagement throughout our country.”  

In an age of post-modern deception, of Orwellian double-speak which a growing number of Americans know is nothing but PR hype, one can only wonder if Shelton knows he is only deceiving himself.  Looking in a mirror, he should ask whether W.E.B. DuBois, one of the NAACP’s founders, would accept such a rationalization.

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