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Media companies spend more than $1 billion to influence government regulators

A new investigative study reveals that the communications industry has spent $1.1 billion since 1998 to affect election outcomes and influence legislation before Congress and the White House. The broadcast industry, the study found, spent more than $222 million lobbying the federal government from 1998 through June 2004 — a period of increasingly intense battles over ownership rules.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts investigative research and reporting on public policy issues, conducted the study. The center is based in Washington, D.C.

The report focused on the three primary communications industry sectors that control the information pipelines in the United States: broadcasting, cable television and telecommunications.

It found that television and radio broadcasting companies contributed more than $26.5 million to federal candidates and lawmakers during the same period. The companies and their principal representative organization — the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) — also sponsored 84 trips for lawmakers and regulators at a cost of $165,474; bringing total spending to affect policy and elections by the industry to $248.9 million.

Since 1998, lobbying expenditures by the broadcast industry have risen 74 percent, from nearly $26 million to more than $45 million during 2003. It was during that last year of record lobbying that the FCC proposed significant relaxation of the ownership rules, which would have allowed corporations to own more media outlets than ever before and reach a greater percentage of the national audience.

The top spender, the report found, was General Electric, which owns 80 percent of NBC Universal in addition to a number of cable networks. It topped the lobby spending list for broadcasters at $105 million. The NAB was second, spending $43.2 million in lobby spending. Walt Disney Co., owner of the ABC television network, was a distant third at $24.2 million.

Broadcasters sponsored $165,474 in trips and junkets for members, family and staff of the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The NAB has paid for 43 of the 84 industry-sponsored trips over the past six years. During that time, the trade association accounted for two-thirds of all broadcast-industry junket and trip spending. News Corp. and Disney followed the NAB with 15 and 13 trips, respectively.

In other findings, cable television providers spent $119.9 million lobbying, $20.5 million on contributions and $226,000 on trips for a total of $140.6 million. Telephone companies such as Verizon Communications and AT&T spent $498 million on lobbying, $60.5 million on campaign contributions and $276,000 on trips for an overall total of $559 million.

For the full content of the study, see “Networks of Influence” at www.publicintegrity.org/telecom.

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