Liberal groups backing mega-merger received money from AT&T

By David Edwards
Friday, June 10, 2011 15:48 EDT
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Several liberal groups that took money from AT&T are also taking heat over their endorsements of the company’s proposed merger with T-Mobile.

The NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Education Association (NEA) all say that public statements endorsing the deal have nothing to do with big donations provided by AT&T.

“The money that nonprofits receive from their corporate sponsors sticks not only in their bank accounts but in their minds,” Sunlight Foundation Executive Director Ellen Miller 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.”

William Barber, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, said that AT&T’s $1 million 2009 donation was not related to the group’s decision to back the merger.

“One of the unique things about the NAACP is that financial support does not determine our civil rights positions,” he insisted.

AT&T also gave $75,000 to the NEA in 2010. On Tuesday, the organization issued an endorsement of the company’s plan.

“Students who do not have access to high speed Internet are disadvantaged in preparing for the 21st Century workforce,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement. “This merger will have positive and long-lasting effects and America’s students will be among the biggest winners.”

But it’s GLAAD’s dealings with the telecommunications giant that have come under the most scrutiny.

“We write to you as leaders in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities who have come together to urge support for the AT&T-T-Mobile merger,” GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios wrote in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Liberal blogger John Aravosis suspects that GLAAD’s support is connected to the fact that AT&T underwrites the GLAAD awards, has recently given $50,000 to GLAAD, and has a member on GLAAD’s board.

“AT&T was one of the companies whose local representatives sits on the board of directors of the Tennessee chamber of commerce,” Aravosis noted. “You remember them, the group that endorsed and actively lobbied for the measure repealing gay and trans rights ordinances in the state, mandating it so that no trans person can ever change their birth certificate gender in the future, and banning any future civil rights ordinances for anyone in the future.”

“The purported linkage between expanding 4g coverage and gay rights is one of the most contorted, and bizarre, things I’ve ever read,” he added. “It looks like AT&T bought GLAAD off. It’s hard to reach any other conclusion.”

To make matters worse, GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios admitted this week that his office sent a letter to the FCC opposing net neutrality. GLAAD had previously been on record as supporting net neutrality.

“The letter’s origins lay with AT&T; the telecom giant sent Barrios suggested wording for another letter to the FCC,” The Bilerico Project’s Bil Browning explained. “Barrios’ special assistant used the language verbatim to create the letter, signed his name to it, and sent it in.”

“As one of his board members telegraphed yesterday, Barrios is not ‘qualified’ to run the organization,” radio host Mike Signorile wrote Friday. “Jarrett Barrios must resign.”

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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