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AT&T lobbyists push for T-Mobile deal

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- The fate of AT&T's $39 billion bid for Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile USA will be decided in Washington -- and few companies are better armed for such a battle.

For years, AT&T (T, Fortune 500) has been one of the biggest political and lobbying forces in town. Last year, it spent $15.3 million and had 93 lobbyists on its roster, including six former lawmakers. Germany's Deutsche Telekom (DTE.DE) spent $3 million on lobbying for T-Mobile USA in 2010, armed with 41 lobbyists and one former lawmaker.

"These are the folks who know how the game works. They know who to call in certain situations," said David Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ultimately, it is the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice that will determine whether to allow the proposed merger -- not Congress. AT&T and T-Mobile already have some lobbyists registered to persuade those agency officials as well, and their ranks are expected to grow.

But lawmakers on Capitol Hill can help steer the public debate that will inform the regulators' decision. Members of Congress will use their bully pulpit to hold hearings, write letters to regulators and pull on agency purse strings.

AT&T's considerable lobbying clout won't be unopposed: Sprint Nextel (S, Fortune 500) is reportedly planning to lobby against the merger. It spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2010, with 31 lobbyists on its team, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. If the deal goes through, Sprint would end up a small and distant third in the U.S. wireless market, behind AT&T and Verizon.

Many lawmakers have a personal interest in seeing AT&T do well. AT&T ranked as the sixth most popular investment among members of the House and Senate in 2009, the most recent year for which such data is available, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And AT&T is considered a heavy hitter during campaign election cycles. In 2010, donors with links to the company made nearly $4 million in campaign contributions to candidates running for federal office.

"It speaks to how omnipresent they are in Washington D.C.," Levinthal said. To top of page

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