Bil Browning

GLAAD/AT&T Fallout Continues as New Groups Admit Involvement

Filed By Bil Browning | June 20, 2011 1:15 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: AT&T, FCC filings, GLAAD, Jarrett Barrios, Massachusetts, resignation scandal, T-Mobile

Yesterday Politico continued to cover the resignation of GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios and the issues surrounding the organization's support for the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger, contradictory JarrettBarrios.jpgFCC filings, and subsequent confession to covering up for a longtime aide. Barrios, a former Massachusetts state senator and long-rumored to be a potential Congressional candidate in his home state, has become the talk of the statehouse as news of his demise has spread.

According to Politico:

Following the resignation of Jarrett Barrios as president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation on Saturday, gay activists are calling for reassessment of the group's policies and for more heads to roll over its backing of AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile.

GLAAD's board of directors will discuss by telephone on Sunday night whether to formally accept Barrios's resignation.

While GLAAD had promised a press release Saturday night, no word has been forthcoming. Radio host Michelangelo Signorile is reporting that Barrios tried to sway the board to keep him on as the group's leader by relying on friends and supporters on the board. Signorile also suggest that Barrios was partially paying the aide from his campaign fund.

A cursory glance at Barrios' campaign filing expenditures shows that he hasn't filed any reports of donations or major outlays since 2006. There is, however, a recording that he paid the staffer, Jeanne Cristiano, $7500 in late 2009 for "creation and maintenance of database." Cristiano was also reimbursed approximately $350 in mid-2007 for party supplies.

In a statement sent to Signorile, Barrios wouldn't elaborate on either the allegations of campaign fund misuse or his actions with the board. "I have resigned and there is nothing further to speculate about," he sent in an e-mailed statement.

AT&T Scandal Engulfs Other Civil Rights Groups

As I pointed out to Politico, it's not just GLAAD that's been duped by the telecommunications giant into supporting a merger that's actually bad for minority groups.

However, gay rights advocates also acknowledge that GLAAD isn't the only public interest organization backing the acquisition. Several civil rights groups, such as the NAACP, have come out in favor of the AT&T's bid after having received funding.

With the economy sluggishly recovering, it's hard for nonprofit organizations to turn away corporate money that's the lifeblood behind their advocacy work, they say.

"GLAAD isn't the only organization [in which] AT&T has purchased so much influence," said Bil Browning, editor in chief of The Bilerico Project, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group blog. "These huge corporations have been able to turn around and fund civil rights organizations [to buy] influence."

While Bilerico contributor Adam Polaski outlined the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's support of the merger and their financial ties to AT&T, the fact that most of these letters of support for the merger or opposition to net neutrality were either partially or wholly written by the telecom giant, has mostly escaped notice.

The Riverside NAACP acknowledged that their position letter against net neutrality was based off of a press kit sent by AT&T. The group lifted sentences from it to include in their filing. The letter GLAAD submitted opposing net neutrality was entirely written by AT&T. Letters from the National Action Network and National Urban League also contain several sentences and an entire paragraph that are exactly the same.

Interestingly enough, former GLAAD staffer Rashad Robinson, now head of ColorOfChange.org recently sent out an e-blast condemning the merger and touting net neutrality. The action alert blasts both GLAAD and the NAACP.

In order to shift focus away from the facts regarding the serious impact of the deal on marginalized communities, AT&T is trying to show the FCC that civil rights groups support the merger. They are running a campaign to get non-profit organizations, especially groups that represent people of color, to support the deal. And it's worked: Black civil rights groups like NAACP, National Action Network, and the National Urban League; Latino groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Hispanic Federation; and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have all come out in support of the deal.

Many of these groups have very close, long-standing relationships with AT&T, and have received significant financial support from the company. But it's not clear where this might be a factor and where it's not. We talked with Ben Jealous, the CEO of the NAACP, who explained that the organization receives equal support from organizations that are opposed to the merger, and that under his watch they have run campaigns targeting organizations that have given them money. He also explained that their primary motivation for supporting AT&T in the merger is about diversity in hiring and jobs. AT&T has gotten high marks on the NAACP's diversity scorecard, while T-Mobile has refused to participate. The NAACP also sees the potential for a significant increase in union jobs resulting from the merger - another reason for its support. At the same time, Hilary Shelton, the NAACP's head of policy, has argued (and been cited publicly as arguing) that the deal will help close the digital divide and expand access. Jealous said that the statements issued thus far are preliminary, and that the broadband impact issue is one they would want to look at more closely. However, the only comments on record are those from Shelton and significant damage has already been done.

What's not disclosed, however, is that Robinson, Barrios and board member Anthony Varona met with FCC chief Bill Lake and Deputy Director Bob Radcliffe in mid-May of last year. Varona is a former FCC attorney.

"Rashad, Jarrett and Tony met with the FCC in May 2010 to discuss GLAAD's involvement in present and future FCC proceedings (including broadband proliferation items, public interest programming initiatives, etc.)," according to Rich Ferraro, GLAAD's Director of Communications. The group denies that they took a formal position on any matter pending before the FCC at the time.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also sent a letter to the FCC on January 5, 2010 espousing opposition to net neutrality according to the group's Executive Director, Rea Carey. This letter was also included AT&T talking points and was withdrawn days later. You can see the letters here and here

"The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 5, 2010, about rules and regulations regarding net neutrality. The letter was a response to a request by AT&T," she said. "However, we quickly realized that we had not gone through an appropriate internal process on such policy matters and that the Jan. 5 letter did not accurately reflect our views and was a mistake. As a result, on Jan. 14, the Task Force submitted an additional letter to the FCC clarifying the organization's position on net neutrality."

"The Task Force has established a clearer internal review process that applies to any request for sign-on or policy endorsement from any group, organization or corporate partner. We have not issued any additional letters on net neutrality. Additionally the Task Force has declined requests from our corporate partner AT&T for further action regarding this issue and declined requests to write a letter regarding the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile."

As questions swirl about AT&T's large donations to civil rights organizations and the amount of influence they're wielding in these not-for-profit's decision making, perhaps it's time for the organizations to remember that AT&T's main objective is profit. Charitable donations are just a tax break for large corporations.

Catch up on the controversy with additional coverage from The Bilerico Project:


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Thanks for pushing this story, Bil. Heads should roll for this one at NGLTF, GLCC, and NAACP as well. What can we do to spread the word?

Share these posts widely - and not just mine. Michelangelo Signorile & Jennifer Martinez from Politico have been doing some great work on this. Chris Geidner just published a fantastic piece in MetroWeekly last night too.

Bil since NGLTF is caught up in this is their any word that NCTE who works closely with them was also involved?

MAJOR differences. NGLTF retracted their trick letter within a week or so. No one at NGLTF lied to the media.

Thanks for the response Bil.