Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Letter To AT&T

To Whom It May Concern:

My wife and I are longtime AT&T customers, having a wireless account with two iPhones plus Uverse television and broadband internet. We also have AT&T local phone service at our home. We have been generally pleased with these products and the service we've received both online and at our local AT&T stores. I travel the world for a living, and my iPhone has become an indispensable tool for me.

However, I was mortified to learn today that AT&T ranks as the number one corporate donor to the political campaigns of the nascent "Tea Party" candidates. I find this news distressing and frankly unacceptable.

I understand that corporate monetary influence of political campaigns is a fact of our political landscape (though an unfortunate one, I think). And while I understand that political conservatism in this country tends to be friendlier to business concerns in matters of taxation and regulation, the Tea Party represents an extremity of political thought that makes corporate contributions surely inappropriate. At the least, the Tea Party is inarguably distasteful to a large segment of AT&T's millions of customers. Good corporate citizenship surely means something more than the ruthless pursuit of policies to maximize profits to the exclusion of any other considerations.

Surely what is appropriate here--and what I request of you--is for the company to support candidates who represent a broad range of political thought reflective of AT&T's customer base.

My horror of the Tea Party and my sense of integrity and social responsibility compel me to distance myself from any organization giving substantial support to the movement, and to make every effort to ensure that no dollars of mine could possibly benefit a movement which I feel is damaging my country.

To this end, I'm inclined to immediately cancel all my AT&T accounts. However, your affiliation with Apple and its iPhone represents a roadblock to my intentions. Because no other domestic wireless provider carries the iPhone, and no manufacturer has yet produced a device to match the iPhone's capabilities, the necessity of giving up the iPhone in order to divest myself from AT&T is a step I am at present unwilling to make. But barring a change in AT&T's policies, I will switch cell phone carriers the moment another company can support the iPhone, and in the meantime I will look at finding a different provider of internet and television services.

I would appreciate a reply and, if my information is incorrect, an explanation of how this is so.


etc., etc.


dbackdad said...

It's definitely a quandary. I have Verizon and they are iffy with some of their contributions as well. As consumers, it's our responsibility to vote with our dollars and try and support those companies that are, at the very least, neutral in their politics. But there are certainly situations where there are no good alternatives. Your letter is certainly a valiant attempt to influence a giant.

wunelle said...

I sent a similar letter to Apple, though acknowledging that these policies are not Apple's policies. Still, I expect Apple will have more pull than one lone customer.

In any case, I can only hope to be one of a chorus of voices opposing AT&T's political support policies. I don't really expect much, but I feel I have no right bitching when I don't at least give them the opportunity to respond.

Jeffy said...

I looked around a bit and it appears that AT&T only contributed $10K to one candidate - probably someone who happens to be on a committee that affects their business. Hopefully they are not especially interested in supporting a Tea Bagger. I am not quite sure how they ended up getting tagged as a major Tea Party supporter, since there seemed to be a lot more than $10K donated to those candidates.

You'd think, though, that corporations would be a bit more cautious about how these donations look to their customers. While the leaders of the company may be interested in supporting a candidate, they need to realize that their support sends a message that may make a much larger effect than what they get out of their contribution.

We had a similar situation blow up recently here in the Twin Cities. Target Corp. contributed to some Republican candidate, and a large number of their customers were very unhappy to hear about it. Target ended up apologizing for the donation.

wunelle said...

I heard about the Target thing. It's too bad, since I understand that Target has a long history of GLBT support, and it sounds like their unfortunate donation was business-based and not ideological (even if the protest hits its mark).

I wonder about the AT&T thing, about whether the information which arouses my pique is correct. I received an email from a progressive organization with the info that they (and the big company figures) were the No. 1 corporate contributor to Tea Party candidates, and that email linked to a different organization which reiterated that information.

How to know if this info is correct? It would seem silly to start a campaign against them if they are not suspected of malfeasance, though I understand this is not an argument. But how to confirm? Learn the names of the board members and top executives and check on donations from them? Or cross-check the affiliations of these people and check donations from affiliated organizations? It seems easy enough to disguise one's intentions (like the Koch Brothers), but again that's not proof.

So the question becomes: how good is one's source of information? I know nothing about mine except that they purport to keep an eye peeled for progressive concerns.

Jeffy said...

I don't know that my information was any good either. That is part of the problem with political contributions - they can be so hard to track.

All I did was click the link you provided to the OpenSecreets site, and went to their main page where they have a tool to query their data to see what particular donors have been up to. A search for AT&T didn't turn up much. However, if I click the link for AT&T in the article you linked the same folks have a reports on AT&T's contributions, which amount to an awful lot more. That report shows that they seems to contribute mostly to individual candidates, and that they pretty evenly spread their money between R's and D's.

In the end, I still say that corporations need to be more aware of what people will think of their contributions regardless of what the actual intent is.