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GOP 'discouraged' at lack of telecom donations to reward immunity support
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday February 28, 2008

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Congressional Republicans have been among the most vocal proponents of a plan that would spare telecommunications companies from paying millions -- perhaps billions -- of dollars in litigation costs and potential penalties for their participation in President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, which critics say was illegal.

One might think that those expected savings would find their way into GOP campaign coffers, but party aides are griping to Roll Call that a surge in donations from telephone and Internet providers has failed to materialize.

"It's quite discouraging," one Republican aide laments to the subscription-only Capitol Hill newspaper.

Since Democrats took over Congress last year, donations from telecoms have followed those from several other business sectors into the campaign coffers of the new majority party.

House Democrats have refused to blink in their showdown with President Bush over his demand for retroactive telecom immunity as part of an updated surveillance law, but those companies have done little to boost the fortunes of the GOP as it continues to push Democrats to approve the immunity plan.

“These companies just won’t do anything,” the GOP aide told Roll Call's Tory Newmyer and Lauren W. Whittington. “Even when you have the Democrats working against their bottom line.”

No Republicans would speak to the reporters on the record, wary of the impression that their immunity support is little more than a legislative shake-down for campaign donations. But plenty proffered private complaints about the telco's shifting support.

While Democrats often benefit from heavy outside spending and advocacy campaigns from labor unions and other ideologically aligned groups, telecoms and others in the business community are wary to mount such a similarly partisan effort because they need to maintain good relationships with both parties.

“There’s no question that from time to time staff, and maybe some Members, say to fellow travelers: ‘Are you giving us some air cover? Are you helping us help you?’” one Republican lobbyist told Newmyer and Whittington.

Another lobbyist told them of a "growing frustration" among Republicans "that a lot of these guys getting screwed by Democratic leadership are continuing to load their coffers.”

Although the telecoms have not inserted themselves into the immunity debate, some interest groups have tried to push Democrats on the issue, which has been before Congress for months as it works to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. One ostensibly bipartisan group, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is running an ad targeting 15 House Democrats, but the tone of the 24-themed ad caused several Democrats to leave the group, as TPM Muckraker reported this week. Pro-war activists at Freedom's Watch also are lobbying for telecom immunity. The House Republican conference has produced its own FISA ad, as well.

Newmyer and Whittington trace the shift of telecom dollars:

Of the four major phone companies, only Sprint is now favoring Democrats overall, giving the majority party about 57 percent of their PAC contributions, according to CQ MoneyLine. The other three companies, AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, still give a majority to Republicans but by slimmer margins than in years past. AT&T gave Democrats 38 percent of their PAC dollars last year, up 8 percentage points from the 2006 cycle; Verizon gave them 47 percent, up 10 percentage points from the last cycle; and Qwest gave them 49 percent, a 22 percentage-point boost over 2006, according to records from the FEC and CQ MoneyLine.

The griping over telco dollars comes as the GOP finds itself struggling to keep up with Democratic fundraising before this year's elections, which observers predict will expand Democratic control of Congress. The National Republican Congressional Committee has $29 million less than the Democrats campaign as of Jan. 31, according to Roll Call.

Frustration bubbled over at a closed-door GOP session this week, according to the paper. House Republican Leader John Boehner told members of his party to get off their "dead asses" and start fundraising.