Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Top Democrats Own Stock in AT&T, Funder of Far-Right OAN Network

by
in Sludge
on October 12, 2021

The far-right network One America News reaches millions of Americans with its content that includes election conspiracies and pandemic disinformation through the satellite broadcaster DirecTV, owned by the conglomerate AT&T. Recently, an OAN host floated the idea of executions for traitors who they say overthrew Trump’s re-election win.

Last week, a bombshell Reuters investigation uncovered that AT&T-owned platforms provide 90% of the revenue for OAN’s parent company Herring Networks, and that without the telco giant’s financial backing, the company’s value would be nil. AT&T reportedly helped design the channel to grow its right-wing audience share from Fox News.

A major player in lobbying against regulations on Capitol Hill and in state houses nationwide, AT&T’s political spending on conservative causes is wide-ranging—for example, one of its PACs has given over $570,000 to the 22 Republican co-authors of Texas’ bill restricting access to reproductive health.  

Last month, the watchdog newsletter Popular Information, which has been tracking corporate PAC donation pledges after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, caught that AT&T had dropped its pledge to suspend its contributions to GOP objectors to the 2020 presidential election results from several states. Meanwhile, OAN blasts out pro-Trump propaganda created by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

At least two dozen members of Congress or their spouses hold stock in AT&T, including Speaker Pelosi’s spouse, investor Paul Pelosi, and other members of House Democratic leadership, according to a review of House and Senate financial disclosure reports covering 2020. In the Senate, three of the four AT&T stockholders are members of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications Media and Broadband, which has jurisdiction over all sectors of communications, and three are Democrats.

Speaker Pelosi’s spouse’s investment in AT&T is worth between $250,000 and $500,000 as of the most recent disclosure, with income last year to their household between $15,000 and $50,000. AT&T has spent over $5.7 million in lobbying the federal government so far this year, according to OpenSecrets, and it disclosed last year being a member of dozens of trade associations including the lobby group United States Telecom Association (USTA). AT&T says it contributed $315,000 to USTA in the second half of 2020 and over $226,000 in that time period to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is battling the Democrats’ reconciliation plan in Congress on all fronts. 

The chair of the House Budget Committee, Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth, owns a stake of up to $50,000 in AT&T. The spouse of Zoe Lofgren holds up to $30,000 in AT&T stock while the California rep, chair of the House Administration Committee, sits on the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, having purchased as much as $15,000 more on September 30 of this year. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, a member of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, owns as much as $30,000 in AT&T through two trusts.

House Republicans’ households invested in AT&T include the following: Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, with up to $250,000; 2020 presidential election results objector and Senate candidate Mo Brooks of Alabama, with up to $130,000; election results objector David Kustoff of Tennessee, with up to $52,000; Austin Scott of Georgia, whose spouse holds up to $50,000; and election results objector Ralph Norman of South Carolina, with up to $50,000. More House members on both sides of the aisle may hold AT&T investments, but scores of them file their annual disclosures as hundreds of pages of blurry scans, occasionally handwritten and illegible, so some are not included in this post’s survey.

Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is likely the largest shareholder in AT&T on the Senate side, with up to $115,000 held by his household in three investments and income of up to $7,500 last year from the stock. He is the second-most senior Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

The two Senate Democratic members of the communications subcommittee invested in AT&T are Gary Peters of Michigan, with up to $100,000 invested and up to $3,500 in income in 2020, and Jacklyn Rosen of Nevada, with shares valued at a maximum of $100,000 and with up to $5,000 in income last year through a joint investment. Peters is a Senate co-sponsor of the Broadband Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2021, introduced by subcommittee chair Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, which is the bill seeing the most AT&T lobbying activity so far this year. Republican subcommittee member Shelley Moore Capito owns up to $15,000 in AT&T, as does her spouse.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is one of the members of Congress supporting bills to compel senators and representatives to transition their stock holdings to diversified funds or blind trusts upon taking office, said recently that it’s a “very uphill battle to pass” measures like the Ban Conflicted Trading Act. Earlier this year, a committee controlled by Speaker Pelosi did not allow full House votes on three legislative items that would have banned members from transacting in individual company stocks, including two with bipartisan support. 

In the wake of the OAN revelations, tech journalist Karl Bode wrote of AT&T:

“However bad Facebook is (and I 100% agree with complaints that its executives are monumentally terrible), think about this: in just the last few years AT&T has been: fined $18.6 million for helping rip off programs for the hearing impaired; fined $10.4 million for ripping off a program for low-income families; fined $105 million for helping ‘crammers’ by intentionally making such bogus charges more difficult to see on customer bills; fined $60 million for lying to customers about the definition of ‘unlimited’ data; caught in a scandal in which the company paid Trump’s fixer $600,000 for closer access to the President; fined $7.7 million for turning a blind eye to drug dealers running directory assistance scams; caught lying about its claims it stopped funding politicians supporting January 6 insurrectionists; and was accused of ripping off the nation’s school systems for years by one of its own, former lawyers. I’m sure I missed some.”

Karl Bode, Techdirt

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