FISA, Telecom Favors and Net Neutrality

On July 9, 2008, Congress approved final passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which included controversial "telecom immunity" protections for the telephone corporations that participated in the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program. These provisions will effectively dismiss more than 40 lawsuits by watchdog groups and individual citizens seeking accountability for the violations of their privacy.

Why the flip flop, after Dems had held the line earlier against this gift to AT&T and Verizon?

Clearly there were some election year political considerations by the Dems who don't want to be tagged with being soft on security.

But the American News Project's latest video - "Finance, Favors and FISA" - sheds some light on another key element of the equation: telecom money talks. The nonprofit journalism outfit follows the money trail to find out how telecom lobbying dollars may have influenced Congressmembers to vote the way they did.

The numbers are certainly dramatic: since 1990, the phone and cable corporations have contributed $63 million to Republicans in Congress and $49 million to Democrats. The implications of these massive lobbying expenditures extend well beyond the warrantless surveillance debate to other media policy issues.

These lobbying dollars have helped push numerous elements of the phone and cable giants' agenda on the Hill, including the high-profile fight against Internet freedom protections, aka "Net Neutrality." Over the last several years, the telecoms have flooded Congress with lobbyists and donations to try and blunt "Net Neutrality" legislation supported from across the political spectrum - from the NRA to NARAL, and beyond.

Despite a highly organized public interest community, the telecoms' strategy of massive investment in political donations has so far succeeded in keeping this core media policy from being enacted.

By following the money on the FISA bill, American News Project's investigation is not only helping illuminate the dynamics at play on this critical legislation, but it is providing valuable context for those interested in understanding other aspects of media policy.