A group of advocates rallied outside AT&T’s Hartford offices Tuesday, calling on the company to stop funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbying organization they say pushes counter-productive bills across the country.
John Murphy of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group said the group, known as ALEC, provided a template for a bill to modernize state telecommunications laws that was voted out of the Energy and Technology Committee. Murphy said the bill limits the oversight of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
The bill would exempt companies from annual financial audit requirements and would allow telecommunications towers to be placed in state parks and forests as well as watershed lands, he said.
Susan Pease, Central Connecticut State University professor and board member of Connecticut Common Cause, said the organization AT&T helps to fund influences elections around the country.
“The money finances campaigns and helps elect thousands of state representatives and state senators willing to champion ALEC bills at state capitols,” she said.
Those bills include legislation to curtail collective bargaining rights, require voter identification, and allow laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, she said.
State Rep. Matt Lesser, D- Middletown, said the group has pushed a number of bills that have disenfranchised voters. The League of Women Voters in Florida can no longer operate their voter registration program because of restrictive laws that have been passed there, he said.
AT&T was also criticized by Communications Workers of America Local 1298, a union representing thousands of its employees. The union is currently in contract negotiations with the company and though they aren’t striking, William Henderson, the local’s president, said the two sides are “miles apart.”
In a statement, AT&T Corporate Communications spokesman Marty Richter said the company is committed to negotiating a contract with the union.
“Our focus is on the bargaining table, and continuing to work together with the union to bargain a contract that will allow us to provide and protect high quality middle class careers for our Connecticut employees,” he said. “It seems like that would be a good place for the union to focus its attention as well.”
However, Henderson said the company is looking to strip away pension and healthcare benefits from workers. He called the company a model for corporate greed. Henderson pointed to the company’s circular logo on its offices, referring to it as the “Death Star of oppression.”
“I’ve got 45 years working at AT&T and embarrassed to say I work there,” he said.
Henderson said when he testified in opposition to the telecommunications bill before the Energy and Technology Committee Sen. Kevin Witkos, R- Canton, was adamant AT&T was a friend to Connecticut and a good corporate neighbor. He suggested Witkos said that because he and Rep. DebraLee Hovey are state chairs of ALEC.
The bill Henderson is referring to received the support of more than 20 members of the Energy and Technology Committee, including some who attended the rally Tuesday. The only member to vote against the bill was Rep. Vickie Nardello.
Witkos he doesn’t understand what all the animosity over ALEC is about.
He said he’s the chair of ALEC in Connecticut, but neither he nor Hovey sit on the telecommunications task force. He said presumably any of the members could have gone into the ALEC database to download suggested legislation, but he said that’s not what happened here.
If it had, it would be odd for lawmakers who supported the legislation to show up at the protest.