AT&T Continues Its Not-So-Stealth Campaign To Acquire T-Mobile

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 1:32 PM EDT

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation president Jarrett Barrios reportedly offered his resignation over GLAAD's now controversial support for the AT&T (T) acquisition of T-Mobile. It's just the latest development in the carrier's campaign to promote its interests through third-party advocacy groups.

AT&T's desire is so palpable, it's a wonder drool isn't puddling under the corporate logo. But the company is frustrated because congresspeople on both sides of the political aisle have publicly criticized the deal, which says a lot during an election year when politicians desperately want campaign contributions. So AT&T has continued to crank up its PR machine, getting advocacy groups to recommend the deal as good for their constituencies. However, the move is calling attention to the company's tactics, which could reduce their effectiveness.

The first clear signs of this were back in May when I found that AT&T had ties to a coalition of advocacy groups that came out in favor of the deal. Then in June, Politico reported that the NAACP, GLAAD, and the National Education Association publicly supported the deal. All three receive large donations from AT&T.

Although the three have said donations did not influence their support, arguments that the merger would either increase Internet access to underserved groups or improve experience online are strained. Given that both AT&T and T-Mobile are both in operation, combining the two adds neither total coverage nor capability.

The irony is that AT&T may have set itself back in its lobbying efforts. The company has now drawn attention to the support that it wanted to appear as organic. Even if the organizations really believed that the merger would benefit their constituencies, the combination of ties to the carrier and an appearance of orchestration greatly undercuts the campaign's sincerity. The result may be that the FCC discounts the arguments.


Image: Flickr user Crystian Cruz, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.