In March, the House passed an amendment that rejected retroactive immunity. But last week, 94 Democrats who supported the March amendment voted to support the compromise FISA legislation, which includes a provision that could let telecom companies that cooperated with the government’s warrantless electronic surveillance off the hook.
The 94 Democrats who changed their positions received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008, according to the analysis by MAPLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the connection between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes.
Retroactive immunity could squash about 40 lawsuits pending against telecommunication companies that helped the government monitor the telecommunications traffic of Americans without warrants. The telecom industry has lobbied hard to insure that the provision is included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act update Congress is currently considering.
Nick Papas, spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Many members of the caucus opposed the earlier version of this legislation and ultimately supported better legislation that was the product of bipartisan negotiations. Months of hard work, not campaign contributions, earned the support of many members.”
MAPLight executive director Daniel Newman agreed that there are many factors that affect a lawmaker’s vote but, unlike pressure from constituents, campaign cash is not a “democratic influence.”
The 116 Democrats who remained opposed to telecom immunity received an average of $4,987 from the telecoms during the three-year period, the analysis showed.
“Regardless which way the legislators’ vote, the fact is most of them get money from the telecom industry and that buys access even if it doesn’t buy a favorable result for telecom,” Newman said.
The members who voted yes on June 20 received, on average, $9,659 from the big three phone companies while those who opposed the bill received an average of $4,810, MAPLight found.
The money provides special interests with a bigger megaphone, Newman said.
“Who’s more likely to get a meeting you or AT&T, which donates million of dollars and has the legislator’s ear?”