The Tea Party's Corporate Sponsor: Big Telecom

September 24, 2010 2:38 pm ET — Fae Jencks

The Tea Party prides itself on its alleged "main street" members, grassroots activists, and "outsider" candidates who loathe government intrusion in their lives. The movement, however, has taken up an unlikely cause which appears diametrically opposed to the Tea Party's founding principles. In their opposition to "net neutrality," Tea Party activists claim that they stand against what they claim is government overreach that could lead to government control of the internet.

Net neutrality is a policy that the Tea Party would presumably embrace. After all, the legislation would prevent companies like Verizon and AT&T from creating a tiered access system that would make it harder to visit smaller, "amateur-run" sites like those used to organize Tea Party gatherings.

However, as it turns out, opposing the policy is a very profitable position for the Tea Party, garnering their candidates hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon. According to The Daily Beast, members of the House Tea Party Caucus have received $350,000 from AT&T's PAC alone. Additionally, although Verizon has shied away from public support of the Tea Party after earning criticism for sponsoring a "Friends of America" rally in West Virginia, Verizon's PAC has donated at least $43,500 to members of the Tea Party Caucus.

According to The Daily Beast, Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, claimed he was "unaware of any specific outreach to Tea Party organizations," but stated that he believed that "there's a natural alignment [between the NCTA and the Tea Party] on this issue." Financial disclosure records show that this is clearly the case. Recently, the NCTA has donated $58,500 to members of the House Tea Party Caucus.

While opposition to net neutrality seems contrary to the movement's grassroots persona, it isn't entirely shocking considering the leadership of some of the Tea Party's biggest organizations. FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey is a former lobbyist whose clientele included none other than Verizon Communications. In addition, National Journal reported in 2005 (accessed via Nexis) that both Verizon and SBC (now AT&T) donated thousands to Armey's PAC. So when FreedomWorks announced its opposition to net neutrality, the news came as little surprise.

Because the Tea Party movement prides itself on promoting freedom and liberty, its widespread opposition to net neutrality seems contradictory. But while opposing the measure may not fit in with the movement's core principles, it sure seems to help its fundraising efforts.