Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Glenn Greenwald cites records showing that the telecom companies are spending incredible amounts of money on lobbying Congress for immunity from suits regarding their cooperation with the Bush administration on warrantless wiretapping and other illegal programs.

Just in the first three months of 2008, recent lobbyist disclosure statements reveal that AT&T spent $5.2 million in lobbyist fees (putting it well ahead of its 2007 pace, when it spent just over $17 million). In the first quarter of 2008, Verizon spent $4.8 million on lobbyist fees, while Comcast spent $2.6 million. So in the first three months of this year, those three telecoms — which would be among the biggest beneficiaries of telecom amnesty (right after the White House) — spent a combined total of almost $13 million on lobbyists. They’re on pace to spend more than $50 million on lobbying this year — just those three companies.

And as Greenwald points out, this tends to put the lie to all those claims about the poor telecom companies being threatened with lawsuits by those well-funded “special interests”:

Let’s pause for a brief minute to reflect on how ludicrous and deceptive — laughably so — are some of the main FISA/telecom claims that are being advanced. We continuously hear, for instance, that these poor, beleaguered telecoms need protection from the big, money-hungry plaintiffs’ lawyers driving these “costly” surveillance lawsuits. One of the two organizations leading the litigation against the telecoms (along with the ACLU) is the non-profit group Electronic Frontiers Foundation. Here is what EFF’s Kurt Opsahl wrote this week:

“To put this into perspective, AT&T’s spending for three months on lobbying alone is significantly more than the entire EFF budget for a whole year, from attorneys to sys admins, pencils to bandwidth.”

And then there’s the claim — advanced by the likes of The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt, among others — that it’s a grave injustice to force these telecoms to incur attorneys fees in order to defend themselves against allegations that they broke the law because the litigation is so “costly.” Yet here these telecoms are spending $1 million per month or more in order to send former government officials to pressure members of Congress to write our laws the way they want them to be written.

Incidentally, they’re also paying PR and lobbying firms owned by folks who are running and raising funds for McCain’s campaign:

Then there are the specific lobbying arrangements these telecoms have regarding FISA. AT&T, for instance, paid $120,000 in the first three months of 2008 to the lobbying firm of BSKH & Associates — the firm of which Charlie Black, top campaign adviser to John McCain, is a founding partner. According to BSKH’s lobbyist disclosure form (.pdf), Charlie Black himself, at the same time he was advising McCain, was one of the individuals paid by AT&T to lobby Congress on FISA…

Last year, AT&T paid $400,000 to Black’s firm. Black was taking money from AT&T to lobby on FISA and simultaneously advising McCain. McCain, needless to say, voted in favor of granting amnesty to AT&T and the other telecoms at exactly the time that his close adviser, Black, was taking money from AT&T to influence Congress on its behalf. And, of course, AT&T and Verizon are among McCain’s top donors.

And remember, McCain has railed against what he calls “the iron triangle of big money, special-interest lobbyists, and the legislation they buy” and “the ‘revolving door’ by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided.” Maverick, indeed.