LANSING (AP) – It looked and smelled like a tailgate party.
People were eating brats and pulled pork sandwiches under a large white tent with tables covered with white tablecloths and white, green, blue and maize balloons for the weekend football matchup between Michigan and Michigan State.
Rather than a pregame get-together, the afternoon picnic on the Capitol lawn was sponsored by SBC Communications Inc. to promote its efforts to reduce telecommunications regulation in Michigan. A larger banner read, “Competition: A Kickoff to Innovation.”
The event was just one of many ways groups are trying to influence lawmakers rewriting the Michigan Telecommunications Act before the 5-year-old law expires at the end of the year.
The state’s two largest telephone providers, SBC and Verizon Communications Inc., spent nearly $52,000 from April 21 to July 20 on donations to campaign committees, legislative leaders and lawmakers involved in the telecommunications rewrite, according to campaign reports filed with the secretary of state.
The Telecommunications Association of Michigan, which represents 36 telephone companies including SBC, spent $16,350 during the same period.
Association president Scott Stevenson said the contributions are part of doing business in Lansing.
“They’re for fundraiser tickets, golf outing tickets. It’s what every organization does to keep up with all the fundraising that lawmakers have to do to run for office,” he said.
A report released last week by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington showed Michigan was among the top 25 states for contributions to elected officials from the telecommunications industry in the 2000, 2002 and 2004 election cycles.
The industry contributed nearly $700,000 to Michigan officeholders in those three cycles, the center said. About half came from SBC, the San Antonio-based telecommunications company known as Ameritech Michigan until a few years ago.
Gail Torreano, president of SBC in Michigan, said the battle over this year’s rewrite is fierce because more telephone companies are competing for customers and entry into areas such as wireless Internet access and the ability to make calls over the Internet.
“As there is more competition that exists, there’s a greater presence in and around the state Capitol,” Torreano said.
House Energy and Technology Committee Chairman Mike Nofs received $7,100 between April and July from Verizon, SBC and the telecommunications association, according to state campaign finance reports filed by political action committees in July.