February 16, 2012

Selling Out The Internet: Heartland Institute Took $285,000 From Telecoms, Opposed Net Neutrality

Selling Out The Internet: Heartland Institute Took 5,000 From Telecoms, Opposed Net NeutralityEarlier this week, bloggers at ThinkProgress and De Smog Blog obtained leaked documents detailing the fundraising plan of the Heartland Institute think tank, which says its “mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” The documents, among other things, lay out complicated plans to court corporate donors and to challenge climate science with disinformation, even in our kids’ classrooms.

Interestingly, the documents show that that the think tank took a whopping $285,000 from the telecom industry in between 2010 and 2011. The donations come from telecommunications giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner. Yet the largest set of donations are provided from the CTIA — the wireless industy’s trade association.

The think tank does not explicitly explain in this document why it took so much money from the industry, but it does talk about doing “concerted outreach” to “businesses with financial interests…in cable and internet tax and regulation issues (with [senior Comcast government liason] Mike Rose).”

There is one internet-related public policy issue that each of the telecom giants that donated to the Heartland Institute agrees upon: opposing net neutrality. Net neutrality guarantees a level playing field with a free and open internet where internet service providers can’t discriminate between different kinds of content. A broad swath of Americans have organized to defend net neutrality, including groups as diverse as MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition of America.

So where does the Heartland Institute stand on the issue? Squarely with the same telecommunications companies that have donated so heavily to it. When the United States Senate rejected a resolution that would’ve overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules last year, the think tank put out a statement slamming the vote and attacking net neutrality as “strangling one of the last vestiges of economic vibrancy in America.” The statement even praised an court case where its donor Comcast successfully sued the FCC:

Selling Out The Internet: Heartland Institute Took 5,000 From Telecoms, Opposed Net Neutrality
The Heartland Institute might contend that its donors have no influence on its position on this issue, that the thinktank’s thinkers simply share the precise views of those donors.  Yet the large donations from the telecommunications industry — now disclosed thanks to the leak of this fundraising document — raise questions about when a think tank ceases to become a truly independent, honest voice, and instead becomes a tax-deductible vehicle to press the views of corporate lobbying interests, without prompt disclosure of its financial patrons. Interestingly, the Heartland Institute has rightly taken the Chinese government to task over Internet censorship, something it appears to have no intention of doing to large telecommunications companies.