Tom Bliley (R-Virg.) is so tight with the tobacco industry he's known as the "Congressman from Philip Morris." Upon becoming chairman of the House Commerce Committee in 1994, Bliley announced he would end congressional investigations into tobacco during his watch. And he's kept his word: Despite numerous allegations of tobacco industry malfeasance, this Congress has held only one tobacco hearing -- on smoking on airlines.
Less widely appreciated, however, are the services Bliley performed for corporate telecom giants in shepherding the telecommunications bill through the House. In 1995, Bliley was the happy recipient of $53,450 from media and telecommunications PACs, including Fox, Disney (which owns ABC), AT&T, MCI, Sprint, and Bell Atlantic. It was money well earned.
Although the telecommunications bill was not a part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America," it was far and away the most important legislation passed by this Congress. The bill will affect the life of nearly every American. But the people did not clamor for it, there was no national debate on its merits, and the television sets of the land -- where most people receive their information -- remained notably silent on the subject.
Why? Because the telecommunications industry largely wrote the law itself, and paid for it with massive donations to politicians of both parties. (During 1995 alone, long- distance and regional telephone companies gave members of Congress more than $4 million.) Although there was a certain amount of colorful (though largely unreported) infighting among the corporate players over how to divide the swag, the public didn't even have a seat at the table. And it shows.
On February 1, when Congress passed the bill, Bliley proudly declared, "Today, we have broken up two of the biggest government monopolies left: the monopolies in local telephone service and in cable television." Not quite. In fact, the telecommunications bill is arguably the most anti-competitive, monopolistic legislation passed since William McKinley occupied the White House.