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Sweet News Story: Bobby Rush conflict with SBC/AT&T

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Today's story deals with a cosy relationship between Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who sits on the House telecommunications committee, the Engelwood economic development center he founded and a $1 million grant to the center from the SBC Foundation.

The grant was to build the Bobby L. Rush technology center.


Critics blast SBC-Rush relationship
April 25, 2006

BY LYNN SWEET Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief


WASHINGTON -- An Englewood community center founded by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a key player on telecommunications legislation, received a $1 million grant from the charitable arm of SBC/AT&T, one of the nation's largest phone companies.

The chief of a congressional watchdog group says Rush's ongoing association with the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation and his role in shaping telecommunications law as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee is a conflict of interest. Using charitable giving as a backdoor way to curry favor with lawmakers is coming under increasing scrutiny, figuring in controversies associated with former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who was forced to temporarily step aside as the ranking Democrat on the Ethics panel.

On Wednesday, the energy and commerce panel on which Rush sits is set to vote on a controversial rewrite of telecommunications law co-sponsored by Rush and backed by major phone companies eager to compete with cable television companies.


Rep. Bobby Rush (AP)

"It is a clear conflict of interest for Rep. Rush to weigh in on this bill," said Sheila Krumholz, the acting executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which researches money in politics. "People can disagree about where to draw the line on contributions and abstaining from votes, but $1 million is definitely over that line."

Rush is the only Democrat to sponsor the "Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006." He has been working with committee chair Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to promote the "Barton-Rush" bill.

Rush, asked to explain whether he had a conflict in sponsoring telecommunications legislation in the wake of the grant, replied in a statement that the "real conflict" stems from inequities in the telecommunications marketplace that hurt the poor.

"It is a systemic institutional disinvestment in [the] poor by corporate America in communities such as Englewood," Rush said. "We deserve an even playing field."

Final check written in 2004

The SBC Foundation grant was given to the Rebirth of Englewood CDC, a non-profit dedicated to improving the economy of the impoverished South Side community in Rush's congressional district.

Rush and his wife, Carolyn, are on the board of the Englewood organization, and his son, Flynn, works for the center. Rush has been a member of the Energy and Commerce panel for more than a decade and serves on its subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

The SBC charity made the first of a series of payments totaling $1 million in 2001 to the Englewood group to create the still unbuilt "Bobby L. Rush Center for Community Technology." The final check was written in 2004, with the SBC Foundation delaying the last payment for a year over concerns that the project was not moving forward. The Rush center is now expected to open within the next 12 months.

In his statement, Rush -- seeking to downplay the conflict claim -- noted that the $1 million grant "you are referring to is over a half decade old."

Rush says it sparks competition

Communications giant SBC Communications Inc. acquired AT&T last year and switched over to the AT&T name. AT&T spokesman Claudia Jones said the company remains "hopeful" that the center will be built and stressed its importance to Englewood residents.

"The people in Englewood should not suffer because they have a congressman on the Energy and Commerce Committee," Jones said.

The Barton-Rush measure gives phone companies a national television franchise and avoids the need to get approval from 30,000 local governments.

Rush argues that this will provide more competition and cheaper services for low-income communities.

Critics of the Barton-Rush bill counter that the bill offers no guarantees that a company would go to the expense of investing in building infrastructure to serve the kind of poor neighborhoods Rush represents. The measure was approved in subcommittee on a 27-4 vote, with 11 Democratic "yes" votes.

Celia Wexler, vice president of Common Cause, another watchdog group (which opposes the bill because of threats to Internet freedoms) said, merits of the bill aside, the SBC grant and Rush's relationship with the center is "troubling."

lsweet3022@aol.com


15 Comments

Ms. Sweet,

In addition to the "Barton-Rush" bill problems that you enumerate in your article, the most pressing danger to internet users is that there will be nothing to stop corporate Internet service providers from manipulating their subscribers' access, e.g. a company like Verizon might decide to block certain websites that espoused views they didn't want people reading. Or they could start blocking ads for their competition.

Can we be certain that international telecommunications corporations will engage in these or other abuses? I dunno. But we do know what happened when commercial radio came under the thumb of a few corporations. And I sure don't want ClearChannel-style corporatization of the internet.

In addition, there is a value to establishing loud and clear that when Americans go on the Internet, we expect equal access to all sites. Our service provider should just connect us and get out of our way.

Chicago Media Action and, we are sure, a great majority of citizens, thank Lynn Sweet and the Sun-Times and urge all to follow the Bobby Rush/AT&T telecom conflict of interest and other major issues concerning media policy reform.

Myself and others with our media reform organization met with Rush's people at a big community forum he held several months back. We all sensed that his telecom people just did not fit in with the rest there, who were generally very good folks. Ms. Sweet's article explains things. this is depressing.

Sweet writes:

"Rush, asked to explain whether he had a conflict in sponsoring telecommunications legislation in the wake of the grant, replied in a statement that the 'real conflict' stems from inequities in the telecommunications marketplace that hurt the poor."

Since his bill is geared primarily to relieving the "inequities" that hurt the telecos, apparently "pay-back" for the "poor" is coming through backdoor channels like his community center.

Save the Internet!
http://www.savetheinternet.com

There is a word for what Rep. Bobby Rush is doing: prostitution. Today's revelation--and major kudos to the Sun-Times for uncovering it--does at least explain why a supposedly liberal Democratic congressman would be backing a horribly anti-consumer telecommunications bill desperately wanted by the telecom industry. Among other things, it would destroy the free and open Internet as we know it today (visit www.savetheinternet.com for more information about this).

I pity the people who live in Rush's district--clearly he has a price, and I have to wonder how else he's sold out the interests of his constituents.

Bobby Rush sponsoring this destructive bill is further evidence at how pervasive money remains on Capitol Hill, where it appears everyone elected to public office is for sale, no matter how much the public shows outrage over these matters illustrated by the current investigations of Abramoff and Tom Delay and the related corrupt influences brought on by big money and big bribes.

Bobby Rush doesn't even seem aware that he is being manipulated by these deceitful corporations, in this case, SBC, thinking he's somehow doing a good thing for the Englewood Community, which in reality is only a good thing for SBC (now AT&T) who stands to secure exclusive control of telecommunications nationwide, with Verizon and Comcast and others, through back door legislation that sidesteps state and local government control.

In the wake of the public's anger over all this deal making going on behind closed doors, we see this behavior continues to go on as if nothing has happened in the news accounts over the past year or so that would scare politicians off from just this very thing. And to see a Democrat like Bobby Rush, and the other Democrats who voted for these changes, openly deal making with no cares about the consequences without even a flutter of ethical doubt surfacing indicating they've learned anything from all this bribery scandal in Washington, is dismaying.

Bobby Rush should remove himself from this bill sponsorship and public hearings should be scheduled to air out this matter so all Americans can see what consequences this sell off to big business will have on their daily lives.

Subj: Rush's million-dollar conflict
Thank you very much for covering this conflict of interest (or
potential).
The partnership of Rush and Barton has seemed odd, and quite frankly,
there's so little mainstream coverage it's hard to get a sense of why
Mr. Rush has been advocating against Mr. Markey to protect community
media.

OR put another way - I don't understand how someone who is
building/supporting a "Center for Community Technology" can support a
bill that seriously threatens the only television carrier of
"community technology": PEG Television (Public Access, Education, and
Government TV which is funded by local franchise agreements).

I'm not sure where Chicago is on this issue, but here in San Francisco,
if you want to get your POV (entertainment or information, government or
neighborhood affairs) out to the people in the community, then the
greatest impact is via one of the PEG channels (this is especially true
with the media-hobbled, otherwise known as the poor and the working
class, who don't access the internet and who don't read the newspaper).
The truth is... more people still get their info from TV than the
internet and newspapers, even here where we seem so digitally enabled as
to be above needing television for anything but entertainment.

I truly do not understand Mr. Rush's logic about competition and
service, and I don't hear how he thinks this helps us as Citizens. (All
of us Citizens will be affected by access to information, while only
some of us are consumers). This bill is harmful to community media.
How can he square this?

Thanks so much, it would be great if there were more coverage really
exploring this issue and the upcoming telecom legislative affect local
communities.

Catherine Lee

Critics of the Barton-Rush bill counter that the bill offers no guarantees that a company would go to the expense of investing in building infrastructure to serve the kind of poor neighborhoods Rush represents.

Lynn:

The Black Metropolis Technology Commission would beg to differ with this kind of thinking.

The kind of "poor neighborhoods" that Cong. Rush represents currently
house the largest Hotel of Internet Carrier Servers and the Chicago Police
headquarters whose 911 Technology Infrastructure is Bar None.

Not to mention the newly funded IIT Tech Park.

Critics need to be concerned as to why Bobbie Rush is the only Democrat sponsoring this act in the 21st Century.


Thanks
Paula Robinson
www.BronzevilleOnline.com

"Critics need to be concerned as to why Bobbie Rush is the only Democrat sponsoring this act in the 21st Century."

The reason he's the only Democrat sponsoring the act is because it does nothing but help a telecommunications monopoly grow even more powerful. This isn't an activity that authentic Democrats generally are involved with.

What's happening here is very simple to understand. Basically the Telephone Cartel is trying to leverage its almost complete control of the system to implement bandwidth discrimination where they would speed up their own video feeds to the exclusion of all others! The result of this bandwidth discrimination would be first class transmission for their own content and second or third class treatment for the content of everyone else.

Of course, this flies in the face of what has made the Internet such a runaway success up to now, namely, that content from my site or the Sun-Times's site is handled by the system in exactly the same way as content from anyone else.

This impartially is called "Net Neutrality" and it's precisely what the Telcos want to do away with. Indeed an amendment to the bill ensuring Net Neutrality was voted down ignominiously with the help of Congressman Rush.

The power-grab on the part of the Telcos has set off a regular praire storm of opposition. In fact, it's done something that rarely happens in these stridently partisan days, namely, it's brought together both the right-wing and left-wing in opposition.

There are a number of sites where people can get more information including Free Press - http://freepress.net, the Center for Digital Democracy - http://www.democraticmedia.org - and now most recently the bi-partisan SaveTheInternet.com - http://www.savetheinternet.com.

The Internet is the only platform we have! The ability to participate at an equal level and at a minimal cost of entry for all is a fundamental public good that we don't intend to abandon. on his roll in this very undemocratic bill.

Bobby Rush is standing up for the people of his district. Access to knowledge is power. By reducing the expense of cable television through competition, more people in his district will be able to afford cable television programing.

The donation issue is a distraction. I am happy to see money to be used to improve the community.

Thanks Bobby for standing up for us.

I just love reading the comments of so called "concerned citizens". I wonder how many of them where "ginned up" by the anti Barton-Rush bill folks. Anyone that has watched the congressman's career know that his walk matches his talk. Shame on Rush should he not fight for his community.

Keep on going congressman.

at&t ain't my friend, and neither are you!

I take offense that the do-gooders of the world and thier need to inform us, uninformed black folks, about media issues concering widing our choices. I do agree there need to be some admendments to theCOPE ACT. However the statements by CMA representatives, an organization that is suppose to be champions on 'urban' media issues. However,they do not represent, nor protect me or my neighbors who live in the Engelwood community.
The real 'prostitutes' are these 'progressives' that are aligning to take down a voice that is needed in our community. Stop the non-sense, please, this is an issue about access and as it stands now; access has not been granted. Where is CMA(isn't the C for chicago?) on the South and West Side?
I am also wondering Lynn, how is what the Congressman trying to accomplish in Engelwood unethical? We dont have the great luxury like you, and these other 'do-gooders' of fighting the fight then going home to our plush homes with access to the spoils of someones elses misery.(That you Often get to voice for us.)
Hs should have gotten 100 million dollars if you ask me. Somebody needs to do something in areas that fell after all the 'do-gooders' folks- who BTW, happen to be European immigrants left once the 'Blacks' began to move south and west in Chicago. Resources dried up just like a magician and the hat trick.(or the glass of water) Now you see it, Now you don't.
Also, serveral months ago it was talk of the town about his house going into foreclosure; because he is drowning his own resources to help a community, that leaders have to beg to get decent resources(i.e. grocery stores and fresh fruit)
How dare you and your 'progressives' to compare him to Tom Delay!

If it is a fight that you wanted? or just to inform folks?
So who is playing a Race card?
Im confused by the intention of the story.
Is that the point?
He is broke, but he is on the lamb for SBC(at&t)

And you wonder why this country is heading in the wrong direction?

We cant afford to even pay to see BET.
Comcast is about $50.00 a month for TV!!!
That is why a lot of folks in my neighborhood pirate cable!!

Pehaps, if there was a bit more diversity and quality in programming reflected on TV, Cable Co's wouldn't have such a strong hold on what our choices are.

Forget about PEG's, seen WTTW lately?
You wouldn't be able to tell that this city is primarly black and brown.
So what are the options?

Net Nuetrality is a huge issue and I hope that part of the bill can be amended.

I love the net the way it is, but this legislation is a direct result in what the Supreme Court gave to the Telco before this legislation.

That fact is that we asked for this, when we all decided to pay the high cost for TV.


I want to hear what LYNN and those who think we need to be educated about the issues have to say?

Mike Webster: "Thanks Bobby for standing up for us."

He's only standing up for you if you happen to represent the Phone Companies.

This act of his is against his own district, against the people of Chicago and against anyone who's ever used the Internet -- or in other words, against anyone even minimally interested in the future.

las: "The real 'prostitutes' are these 'progressives' that are aligning to take down a voice that is needed in our community."

Wow, you're not even listening. The Bobby Rush Telephone Monopoly Act has riled up not simply the "progressives" but the conservatives as well. It's pretty bad when your legislation is so awful and contrary to the best interests of your district (and country) that BOTH the Left AND the Right are against you.

SAVE THE INTERNET!!!

BREAKING:

Rush votes against the Net Neutrality Amendment, thus positioning himself firmly in the "Anti-Internet / Pro-Cartel" Camp.

Note, the Amendment had absolutely nothing to do with Cable! It's all about equal treatment of content on the web. It's about content coming from Englewood and IIT getting the same treatment as content coming from Disney and Fox News.

Rush voted against this amendment. The ugly results of his work can be found here:
http://www.savetheinternet.com/=count

Why no real response to las? No one called out by las responded in any *real* way (I'm looking at you, leo), despite the request for a response and all the good points las raised. I'd like to see more real discussion of these issues -- it's not like las is against net neutrality. But all las got was a brush-off.

* Sorry, I put that last part badly -- should've said "there should be real discussion". I apologize that it sounded like "discussion should happen for my personal enjoyment".

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 25, 2006 9:46 AM.

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