The so-called Video Competition bill eliminates many consumer protections for cable television subscribers, deletes funding for community access channels in three years, and will likely do nothing to lower cable rates. But on Thursday, the state Senate passed it anyway.
Why? That's an easy question to answer.
A study by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found that the 23 senators who voted for the bill got 12 times more in campaign contributions from industry supporters than the nine senators who voted against it. Since 1999, the 23 senators got $1.2 million from special interests supporting the bill, an average of $52,297 each. The nine senators who opposed it averaged just $11,056.
Employees of AT&T, the telecommunications giant that pushed the bill, gave 28 times more to the senators who supported the measure. The telephone company gave a total of $108,146 to the 23 senators, but only $3,825 to the nine opponents.
"It's no wonder this legislation sailed through," says Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "It shows what money will do."
Of course, campaign contributions alone don't account for the bill's easy passage. TV4US, an industry front group, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in television ads promoting the bill.
Shortly before the Senate's action, a coalition including AT&T released a poll that showed overwhelming public support for the bill. The poll claimed that 64% of Wisconsin residents wanted the Legislature to pass it.
But a closer look suggests the poll was purposely designed to skew the responses. One question asked whether the bill should pass because "it will lead to increased competition and better service for consumers, while lowering costs."
The Mellman Group, based in Washington, D.C., crafted the poll. On its website, the company boasts about its "extensive experience developing effective communications strategies that lead people to choose our client's product or service, join their organization, hold their opinion, or vote as we would like."
The poll, says McCabe, was "part of a larger effort to create the impression that there was a groundswell of public support."
The bill now heads to Gov. Jim Doyle, who is expected to sign it into law. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Doyle got $1.5 million from special interests who support the bill since 1999.