Several kind readers gave us the heads-up yesterday about a fundraising email that the Walz campaign sent out. Like Kristin Gillibrand before him, Tim Walz has been hit by robocalls to his constituents asking him to support retroactive immunity for telecoms.
The appeal began:
A group calling themselves “Frontiers of Freedom” is calling voters in southern Minnesota. . . .
The group is telling voters to urge me to support retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the President’s illegal wiretapping program. They want me to cave in to the President’s demands.
Despite the pressure, I refuse to give these phone companies a free pass. I won’t let President Bush decide when he can break the law. . . .
Readers asked us to look into the Frontiers of Freedom Foundation (FOFF) to see what the group was about. Posting has been light here on the Prairie while we combed through news articles and reports about the group.
While one interest of FOFF founder chair Malcolm Wallop placed him near the heart of one of former House Majority Leader Tom Delay's less excellent adventures in Malaysia,this post will focus on FOFF's recent work for telecoms, since the calls brought up immunity.
Common Cause wrote about FOF when it was carrying telecoms' water as they sought to break into the cable market:
Frontiers of Freedom is a think tank that advocates a free market, deregulatory approach to public policy. It operates six policy groups, including a Center for Economic Liberty and Property Rights which handles telecommunications policy.
Frontiers of Freedom does not disclose its financial backers, but the Wall Street Journal reported in 2001 that the organization's main contributors were corporations such as Philip Morris, ExxonMobil and RJ Reynolds Tobacco. At the time, Frontiers of Freedom lobbied heavily against environmental regulations designed to reduce global warming, and also railed against plaintiffs who sued the tobacco companies after contracting lung cancer from smoking.
More recently, the Larstan Business Group accused Frontiers of Freedom of engaging in Astroturf lobbying on behalf of the telephone companies. Larstan's report, it should be noted, was commissioned by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the main trade association for the cable television industry.
The report points out that Frontiers of Freedom has flip-flopped from being a critic of the telephone industry, to being one of its champions. According to Larstan, in 2004, Frontiers of Freedom lambasted "the Bell monopolies" for not "do[ing] any of the heavy-lifting normally associated with a free market," and instead relying on government regulation to build their business. But in 2005, the organization praised the merger of AT&T and SBC Communications - two of the telephone industries biggest players - and also endorsed the Bell-backed regulations designed to ease their entry into the cable television business. Qwest Communications has alleged that Frontiers of Freedom accepts contributions from AT&T.
And then there's the FOFF's involvement in opposing net neutrality as a partner in the Hands off the Internet campaign. PRWatch gave the industry and its shills (including FOFF) a Bronze Falsie for Neutralizing Net Neutrality:
In two reports, Common Cause exposed more than a dozen front groups for telephone and cable companies. These groups hide their industry ties and often "claim to represent huge numbers of citizens, but in reality their public support is minimal or nonexistent," Common Cause wrote. Such campaigns "deliberately mislead citizens, and they deliberately mislead our lawmakers, who are already charged with the difficult task of making sense of complex telecommunications policies."
A frequent target of the telecom front groups is net neutrality, the principle that Internet providers should not favor some content and applications over others. Industry-funded groups with nice-sounding names like Hands Off the Internet, FreedomWorks, Consumers for Cable Choice, Progress and Freedom Foundation and Frontiers of Freedom claim that net neutrality would increase costs and reduce choices for consumers. Verizon Communications hired pollsters to conduct a misleading opinion survey purporting to show that consumers oppose net neutrality. One leading poll question asked respondents which is more important: "the benefits of new TV and video choice" and "lower prices for cable TV," or "barring high speed internet providers from offering specialized services ... for a fee"? The National Journal reported that telecom companies were spending $850,000 per week to attack net neutrality in advertisements placed "anywhere a congressional staffer is likely to be — including the Washington area transit system" and "at Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport."
Oh boy! FOFF is so worried about freedom for
telecoms Internet users. Just to remind everybody about Net Neutrality, we're swiping a YouTube from the Save the Internet Coalition:
Closer to home, on April 8, Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Monitor wrote about yet another coalition FOFF was working on in Phony 'grassroots' telecom industry group pushes back against cell phone reforms.
Birkey reported Mywireless.org was a blended brew of industry:
Though dominated by CTIA, the Mywireless.org coalition comprises more than 30 organizations that include 16 chambers of commerce along with sharply right-wing organizations such as the American Conservative Union, Center for Individual Freedom and Frontiers of Freedom. Mywireless.org has also spread its coins generously among some of the pillars of the anti-tax, anti-regulation right through its "grants." . . .
It's hard to separate the wires of ideological and corporate interest here, but FOFF's concern for national security has tended more toward pimping missile shield defenses over wiretapping. In fact, in the 1990s, the group fought against President Clinton's attempt to expand the government's powers to wiretap following the first World Trade Center bombings and Oklahoma City (see the text below the fold).
Sourcewatch and ExxonSecrets have more on FOFF. Why, it looks like another center of interest for FOFF is denying the link between human activity and climate change; The Science and Public Policy Institute (formerly the Center for Science and Public Policy) also takes on those who think mercury being released into the environment might be a bad thing. We could swear we've seen these cats cited already in First District energy policy discussions.
Telecom and oil company money being used to influence public opinion in Southern Minnesota? Who'd have thunk it? Isn't this debate supposed to be about the global war on terrorism? Or trial lawyers? Or....maybe this what congressman Walz means when he's says he's been representing his constituents rather than outside special interests.
Maybe the calls are simply about telecom immunity.