Big Money Mitch, Wiretapping, and the Telecommunications Industry

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In July 2008, Congress gave a “get-out-of-jail free” card to three major telecommunications companies – AT&T, Sprint and Verizon – that had handed over customers’ private telephone records to the government without a warrant. Civil liberties activists and pro-privacy organizations fiercely opposed this provision, which was included in the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The three companies directly and knowingly participated in an illegal program, yet were held above the law by the FISA legislation.

Yet to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the privacy of millions of Americans, not to mention the rule of law, appears to have taken a back seat to the desires of the telecom giants. McConnell not only voted to keep retroactive immunity in the FISA legislation[1] , but also was a vocal defender of the companies’ actions, saying it would be wrong to “drag patriotic private companies into court for answering their government's call for help.”[2] He said Congress needed to “protect the companies that protect us.”[3] How AT&T actually protected us is unclear.

It turns out they’re also the companies whose executives and PACs help protect his political fortunes through generous campaign contributions. An analysis of campaign finance data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the employees and the political action committees of AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have given $219,485 to McConnell’s campaigns or to his leadership political action committee. AT&T employees and PAC are responsible for $178,000.[4] 

These companies probably have McConnell on speed dial, and vice versa. Even as his constituents struggle to be heard in the political process, it is very likely that some were overheard in the wiretapping program that has been roundly criticized as illegal. Regardless, we know who McConnell listens to.