Sen. Cornyn Warns Of "Undue Political Influence" While Pushing For Merger Benefiting His Donor

August 05, 2011 5:25 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Sen. John Cornyn

Telecom giant AT&T is spending millions of dollars to push the government to approve its $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA. The deal, if allowed to go ahead, will give the company 42 percent of all American cell phone contracts. The new AT&T and rival Verizon would then control nearly 80 percent of the U.S. cell phone market. As Slate's Annie Lowrey has pointed out, it would be "nudging the existing oligopoly closer to a duopoly."

But AT&T has the money and friends in Congress to overcome whatever fear consumers have about what Sprint Nextel CEO Daniel Hesse recently called a "1980s-style duopoly." On Monday, for instance, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Attorney General Eric Holder in support of the move. Smith wrote that members of Congress who have come out against the acquisition were working with "limited information." "They provided you with one side of the story," he wrote to Genachowski and Holder. "I feel compelled to briefly point out the other side." The other side, of course, is AT&T's case for the acquisition. As Political Correction pointed out, the Texas-based company is one of Smith's largest campaign contributors.

The Hill reports that Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have now added their voices to the issue, urging regulators to move ahead with the deal.  

Two Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee's Antitrust subpanel became the latest lawmakers to voice support for AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA in a letter sent Wednesday to the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) indirectly responded to letters from their Democratic colleagues, Sens. Al Franken (Minn.) and Herb Kohl (Wis.), earlier this month that laid out detailed arguments on why the government should block the merger.

In the letter, the two senators ask that the FCC's and Justice Department's rulings on the proposal be "guided by objective legal standards, free of undue political influence, and ultimately directed towards maximization of consumer welfare." The part about "undue political influence" is beyond comedic, however, because Cornyn has a very cozy relationship with AT&T. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Texas-based company has given Cornyn $74,850 during his political career, making it his fifth-largest contributor.

Worst of all, both Lee and Cornyn sit on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, which is primarily charged with preventing companies from getting just the sort of anticompetitive market position that AT&T is hoping to secure.