from the fake-plastic-enthusiasm dept
Last month we noted how the Boys and Girls Club was one of several organizations cable giant Charter (Spectrum) was using to lobby the FCC in a bid to kill off merger conditions affixed to its 2015 merger with Time Warner Cable. Many of those conditions actively protect consumers from monopoly price gouging (a 7 year temporary moratorium on arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps, for example). Other conditions worked to expand broadband into less affluent areas. Despite the conditions actually helping, you know, boys and girls… the club’s letter opposed them.
In a letter to the FCC, the Boys and Girls Club insisted that a recent $5,000 donation by Charter to the organization helped it weather the COVID-19 storm, and that “lifting these conditions will level the playing field for Charter while having zero impact on the online video marketplace.” But after activist and reporter Phil Dampier pointed out that wasn’t true (garnering local press attention), both the Boys and Girls Club and Charter appear to have quickly pivoted to damage control mode.
In a statement to a Rochester, New York NBC affiliate, the Club acknowledges that after getting a big donation they signed off on a letter to the FCC that was written by Charter — without reading it:
“The Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club received a request and prepared letter from Charter Communications affirming their charitable gift of $5,000 to support our summer programming. After quick review of the letter we submitted it. Unfortunately, upon closer review we see that the last paragraph of the letter states that we support ‘Charter?s petition to sunset merger conditions.’ It was never our intention to officially support anything. The Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club does not take a stance either way. We thank Charter Communications for their support of the youth development services we provide to Niagara Falls children.”
Whoops-a-daisy! I not only accidentally lobbied the FCC on behalf of a local cable monopoly, I supported policies that actively harm the entire stated mission of our organization! Charter, for its part, issued a statement that fails to acknowledge much of anything, then tries to brush aside the gross quid pro quo as a “misunderstanding”:
“Charter has supported the life-changing work of the Boys & Girls Clubs across the state for many years and we regret this misunderstanding. As an inherently local business with more than 10,000 employees in the state, we strengthen the communities we serve through employee volunteerism, in-kind support and technology, and philanthropic giving. We work in partnership with hundreds of local leaders and organizations, such as the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club and the 1,400 young people whose lives they enhance each year, and will continue to do so.”
That’s a non-answer and a dodge.
A wide variety of groups take telecom cash to repeat whatever they’re told, whether it’s rural school associations, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, civil rights advocacy organizations, or even balloonist clubs. Sometimes entirely fake groups are created. Sometimes existing groups are “co-opted” to varying degrees to support bad policy. It was a common tactic in the net neutrality repeal. Hell, it was a major AT&T tactic in its bid to block the 1984 break up of AT&T.
For lobbyists the overall goal is simple: to create the illusion of broad support for bad ideas the actual public — including these target groups’ actual constituents — otherwise oppose. One time out of twenty the press notices (reporting on unsexy but important merger filing minutiae doesn’t generate many ad impressions), and everybody involved pretends it was just some accidental oversight. Because it’s legal, nobody does anything. Rinse, wash, repeat.