Rep. Lamar Smith Unsurprisingly Touts Merger That Benefits Huge Donor

August 03, 2011 10:50 am ET — Brian Powell

Rep. Lamar Smith

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is urging federal regulators to see the benefits of a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, a move that would leave 80 percent of the U.S. wireless market in the hands of only two companies — AT&T and Verizon. In a letter to the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Smith implied that members of Congress who oppose the deal are simply ignorant.  He ignores the obvious rebuttal that his praise of the deal is coin-operated politics-as-usual, given the gigantic donations Smith has received from AT&T.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), one of the members referred to in Smith's letter, opposes the merger, saying it would "likely cause substantial harm to competition and consumers, would be contrary to antitrust law and not in the public interest." Such criticism of Smith's corporate benefactor inspired his quick response. From the National Journal:

Smith, whose committee reviewed the transaction, wrote to federal regulators on Monday, asking them to keep in mind benefits of the deal including improved cell service, more efficient use of spectrum, and expansion of advance wireless broadband services to 97 percent of Americans.

Smith also questioned how thoroughly the merger's congressional opponents had analyzed the deal. He was likely alluding to Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who wrote to federal regulators last month to say he wants the deal blocked.

"Recently, you have heard from members of Congress who, based on the limited information provided in congressional hearings, urged you conclude that this merger should be blocked," Smith wrote. "Unfortunately, they provided you with one side of the story. I feel compelled to briefly point out the other side."

He urged regulators to gather "all the relevant facts," including information that is not public and not available to Congress, and "determine whether the merger is consistent with the law."

The concerns in Smith's letter, however, are drowned out by the checks lining his pockets from AT&T and T-Mobile. Smith has received thousands of dollars from T-Mobile's PAC and much more from AT&T. The monstrous $69,800 from AT&T's PAC makes the company his second largest donor all-time. By comparison, Smith has received almost nothing from Sprint, the biggest loser of a potential AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

As a result, Smith's public display of affection for AT&T comes across as unseemly when their corporate contributions speak more loudly than Smith's letter ever could.