Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch and Representative Phil Montgomery have a lot in common, and as of late they have both become fast friends with AT&T.
AT&T badly wants legislative approval of a controversial proposal to let the state license cable and data providers instead of letting local communities continue to pick their cable provider. The phone giant wants to break into the cable market in Wisconsin and this proposal would let AT&T go wherever it wants much faster than having to deal with all those pesky local communities, one by one.
Montgomery is one the bill's lead sponsors and the measure must have Huebsch's OK to pass the Assembly. Huebsch and his Republican colleagues control the Assembly 52-47.
Turns out AT&T barely knew Montgomery and Huebsch existed until last year. From 1998 through 2005, AT&T employees or political action committees had contributed only $300 to Montgomery and $800 to Huebsch.
In 2006 when the proposal was being developed, AT&T contributed $2,250 to Montgomery's campaign and $1,225 to Huebsch, and a few months later out pops the bill AT&T wants.
It also turns out Montgomery's proposal is not exactly homegrown. It comes from a group called ALEC, which stands for American Legislative Exchange Council. This Washington-based conservative think tank is a bill mill, penning numerous anti-regulatory, anti-tax and pro-business proposals and encouraging state legislators around the country to offer them up at home.
And critics say the problems don't stop there. Like a lot of plans to deregulate or preempt local communities, consumer protections are weakened. Unlike now, the bill does not require advanced notice of rate increases or that customer bills are credited when service is interrupted for four hours or more. Customers also lose the right to have service repaired within 72 hours, among other things. Others say it would reduce or end locally made cable programs for kids and others, and the state could not deny a license to a company even if it looks like the provider could go belly up the next day.
Montgomery and other supporters say the bill is intended to spur competition and reduce the price of cable. Be that as it may, we're curious to see how often AT&T pops up on campaign finance reports filed later this year and early next year by the legislators who support the proposal.
And let's not forget about Democratic Governor Jim Doyle if this proposal passes the legislature and gets to him. Doyle says he has problems with the bill as is because of the diminished consumer protections. But Doyle has seen a lot of proposals he likes that take away power from local communities and give it to the state.
Doyle has received $36,157 in contributions since 1998 from employees and PACs of AT&T, one of his most generous corporate backers. In addition, AT&T was among seven companies that gave $25,000 each to help pay for Doyle's 2007 inaugural party.