Barton Brings In the Bucks

May 2, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A controversial campaign by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, to force broadcasters to switch to digital TV by Dec. 31, 2006, appears to be benefiting the lawmaker in at least one key respect: Friends and foes alike on the issue have been flooding his campaign coffers with cash.

“Rep. Barton is one of the few Americans to benefit from the DTV transition,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy. “Both sides are taking out Barton insurance.”

Leading the charge for the Barton proposal’s proponents are Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Dell-all members of the High-Tech DTV Coalition, a group of tech industry heavyweights that last week announced that they had united forces to lobby for the transition plan.

According to figures compiled by the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, Microsoft’s political action committee chipped in $6,000 for the lawmaker’s 2004 campaign-a race that Rep. Barton won with 66 percent of the vote. Cisco gave $4,000, while Dell contributed $3,500, according to the center.

Also according to the figures, broadcasters-who oppose the lawmaker’s transition plan-were well represented on Rep. Barton’s donors list, with the National Association of Broadcasters chipping in $8,000 for his re-election bid last year. According to the center, other major industry contributors included The Walt Disney Co. and Clear Channel Communications, which each kicked in the $10,000 maximum permitted during an election cycle. Viacom anted up another $6,000.

Other members of the high-tech coalition that contributed, according to the center’s figures, included Intel ($2,000), Alcatel ($1,500), Qualcomm ($2,000), T-Mobile ($6,000) and Texas Instruments ($2,000).

The center’s figures also show that the high-tech industry coalition members gave generously to the campaign funds of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Microsoft’s PAC alone donated $1,002,700 to federal candidates during last year’s election cycle, compared with NAB’s PAC distribution of $511,055. Microsoft also raised $197,425 for President Bush’s re-election campaign, making the software giant one of the president’s biggest financial boosters.

The PACs of other high-tech coalition members gave the following to federal candidates during the 2004 elections, according to center figures: AT&T ($394,000), Intel Corp. ($286,864), Qualcomm ($174,083), Cisco Systems ($168,000), Dell ($98,388), T-Mobile ($71,500) and Texas Instruments ($55,000).

“We’re in this to win because it’s important for America,” said Peter Pitsch, Intel director of communications policy, at a press briefing.

Deadline Concerns

The group’s announcement comes as some lawmakers have been voicing concerns that Rep. Barton’s 2006 deadline could alienate voters by forcing them to buy digital-to-analog converters for millions of sets.

But the coalition members insisted that they’re committed to finding a way to make the transition work, in part by backing initiatives to provide converters.

At last week’s briefing, Janice Obuchowski, the coalition’s executive director, said an expedited transition would clear the way for the return of broadcast spectrum to the government-frequencies that the high-tech industry wants to use to offer new communications services to consumers.

“It’s a major competitive issue for us,” said Ms. Obuchowski, a former Federal Communications Commission official.

Coalition members declined to divulge the organization’s budget. But Mr. Pitsch said the group’s financial backing is “significant” and that the coalition has hired lobbyists.

“We’re deadly earnest,” Mr. Pitsch said. “If you look at the companies here, we are-somewhat modestly, I think-the cream of the cream of U.S.-based companies.”

In an April 27 letter to leading lawmakers, Eddie Fritts, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said broadcasters agree with lawmakers who worry that a premature end to analog television would be disruptive to millions of Americans.

“The corporate financial interests of a handful of technology companies should not trump the needs of American television viewers,” Mr. Fritts said.

The coalition members are Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile, the Information Technology Industry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, the Rural Telecommunications Group, the Business Software Alliance and the Semiconductor Industry Association.