Surprise: McCain Biggest Beneficiary of Telco/ISP Lobby Money

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is the top recipient of campaign contributions from large Internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast over the past two years, according to a new report from the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics. McCain has taken in a total of $894,379 (much of that money going to support his failed 2008 bid for the presidency), more than twice the amount taken by the next-largest beneficiary, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. ($341,089).

Meanwhile, McCain has emerged as the ISPs' biggest champion against new "network neutrality" rules from the Federal Communications Commission, which voted Thursday to move forward in the process to adopt such rules. Shortly after the FCC vote, McCain introduced a bill (the "Internet Freedom Act") that would block regulation of the nation's largest broadband networks.

Net neutrality rules would amount to a federal mandate that broadband providers cannot block or hinder the internet traffic of any web site or service, regardless of whether or not that site or service completes with a similar site or service offered by the ISP itself. In other words, a telco ISP could not limit bandwidth used for Skype VoIP traffic, while maximizing bandwidth available for its own VoIP service.

As Congress considers legislation that would codify net neutrality into law, cable and phone companies are hoping to cut a better deal on Capitol Hill than they are likely to get from the FCC, the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison says.

As the network neutrality issue has come to a head over the past year, due in large part to the new FCC's interest in it, telco and cable lobbyists have been flooding the offices (and coffers) of lawmakers. The Sunlight Foundation study found that some 244 members of Congress were the beneficiaries of contributions--totaling more than $9.4 million--from January 2007 to June 2009. The analysis was based on a survey of giving by eight large broadband providers and two trade associations that represent them, all which have disclosed lobbying on net neutrality issues.

The telecom interests also targeted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. ($275,275), Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Mont. ($248,999) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ($198,972).

Verizon and AT&T have been particularly active in this effort; they also were the sources of all the clustered contributions among broadband providers, with AT&T and its outside lobbyists combining to give to 110 members, followed by Comcast (105 members) and Verizon (96 members).

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