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Friday, June 10, 2011

Philanthropy as "Deep Lobbying":

Our chapter on interest groups discusses corporate philanthropy as a form of political influence: "Charitable contributions also create potential allies. When a group receives money, its members are more likely to side with their benefactor in political disputes. At least, it will probably refrain from boycotts and public demonstrations" (p. 287). Politico supplies a fresh example:
AT&T is lining up support for its acquisition of T-Mobile from a slew of liberal groups with no obvious interest in telecom deals — except that they’ve received big piles of AT&T’s cash.

In recent weeks, the NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Education Association have each issued public statements in support of the deal.

The groups all say their public positions have nothing to do with the money they received from AT&T. And AT&T says it supports nonprofit groups because it’s the right thing to do — and not because of any quid pro quo.

But not everyone’s buying it.

“For decades, AT&T has proudly supported numerous diverse groups and organizations,” a company spokesperson told POLITICO.

“The money that nonprofits receive from their corporate sponsors sticks not only in their bank accounts but in their minds,” Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to government transparency, told POLITICO. “This is what I think of as deep lobbying — there is an expectation that when push comes to shove, these groups will come out in favor of their benefactors.”

We also note that interest groups often set up 501(c)(3) charities that can accept tax-deductible contributions. Accordingly, another passage is relevant:

The foundation of the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — received a $75,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation last year, the foundation’s IRS filing shows. On Tuesday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel issued a statement in support of the telecom merger. “Students who do not have access to high-speed Internet are disadvantaged in preparing for the 21st century workforce,” he said. “This merger will have positive and long-lasting effects, and America’s students will be among the biggest winners.”