The U.S. Senate may have 100 members, but only one, Al Franken, has really made his opinion known on the recent cable and telecommunications mergers, bashing the deals between giants like Comcast, Time Warner, and Sprint.
While other senators may be holding back, Franken has repeatedly hammered the communications companies over fears of what the mergers could mean for consumers. After already heavily criticizing the proposed Comcast-Time Warner and Sprint -T-Mobile deals, Franken is now ripping into the proposed merger that would unite AT&T and DirecTV. See also: Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar not thrilled about prospect of Comcast-Time Warner merger
"Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable, and Sprint wants to buy T-Mobile--and AT&T says they need to get bigger, too," Franken said at a hearing on proposed merger of AT&T and DirecTV last month. "To me, that is not a good reason to approve this deal. And we need to examine this merger on its own terms. AT&T and DirecTV have explained why this is a good deal for them. As good corporate citizens, they must also explain why this is a good deal for consumers."
Franken's loud, impassioned position on the issue has certainly helped him to stand out from his colleagues, many of whom are too worried about the political backlash to take a real stand on the issue.
As recently as last week, Franken sent a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, where he rattled off his concerns with the latest merger -- everything from worries about bundled broadband packages ("This deal could give AT&T more power to increase consumers' choices by forcing consumers into bundled packages that include services that consumers may not want ") to net neutrality ("AT&T has committed to voluntarily abide by the FCC's now-vacated 2010 Open Internet Order for three years if this deal is approved. However, AT&T has a history of skirting the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of that Order.")
But what's interesting is that even as Franken keeps fighting the power, his campaign has raked in past contributions from the very same companies he's targeting. The major players in the AT&T-DirecTV merger and other big telecom deals have both given big money to Franken.
According to a campaign finance database, DirecTV's PAC gave $2,500 in the 2014 cycle alone, with the employees of AT&T ponying up an additional $500. As for the other major telecom players? They haven't been shy, either. Comcast's PAC has already handed over $4,150 to Franken's campaign this cycle.
Franken spokesperson Alexandra Fetissoff responded, telling us, "Every day Sen. Franken goes to the mat for Minnesotans and whatever is in their best interests, regardless of who donates to his campaign."
The numbers do come with a few caveats: The amounts are from Franken's entire six-year re-election cycle, from 2008 to 2014, so they aren't necessarily from the very recent past. But they do show that even with a senator like Franken who's so against these big-time telecommunications mergers, companies are still reaching for political power wherever they can find it.