The Advocacy Groups Under Fire for Supporting AT&T

The NAACP finds itself in a controversy soon after GLAAD withdraws its support

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The NAACP is the latest advocacy group to be getting heat for its support of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger. Since the announcement that the two companies would unite, odd alliances have formed between the telecommunications giant-to-be and various advocacy groups, including the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Education Association (NEA), to name just a few. Each has issued public statements declaring their support for the merger.

Given the disconnect between minority rights and cell phone companies, the purity of these organizations' endorsements have come into question. A New York Times editorial questioned the support, attributing the alliances to donations these groups receive from AT&T and/or T-Mobile,

What makes this picture murkier is the money involved. The N.A.A.C.P. got at least $1 million from AT&T in 2009. The N.E.A.’s foundation got $75,000 from AT&T’s foundation last year, according to The Columbia Urban League in South Carolina, which supported the merger, got a $25,000 grant from the foundation.  

As the controversy continues, some have caved to the criticism, while others are standing strong. The NAACP has already responded with a letter to the editor, published today. That's in contrast, so far, to the way GLAAD has handled the pressure.

Why would a gay rights groups support a telecommunications merger?

After AT&T and T-Mobile made their announcement, GLAAD drafted a lengthy letter to the FCC explaining their support of the merger, somehow making the connection between human rights and having more dominant corporations:

In sum, we believe that the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger will serve the public interest in multiple ways. If approved, it will expand the availability of true high-speed access to millions of Americans who do not currently have it. This new deployment also holds the promise of dramatic improvements in healthcare, education, the arts and the overall economy.

GLAAD's support just plain weird and smelled fishy -- the letter read like AT&T drafted it, and, again, why would a gay advocacy group invest anything into this merger? To make things worse, GLAAD is a strong supporter of net neutrality, directly opposing AT&T's stance on the issue.

After doing some digging, critics noted that GLAAD receives funding from AT&T. Politico reports that GLAAD "has received $50,000 from AT&T." Controversy ensued.

The scrutiny led to the resignation of GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios and earlier this week, GLAAD issued another letter to the FCC withdrawing their support of the merger. They cite the differing net neutrality positions as their reason for withdrawal.

Please be aware that GLAAD disagrees with AT&T’s own opposition to net neutrality regulation. Please be aware that GLAAD disagrees with AT&T’s position in this area.

In their diplomatic statement, they cover all their bases, not passing judgement on fellow advocacy groups that continue to support the deal, "We remain respectful of the decision of many of our civil rights community allies to submit letters of support for AT&T’s application." While simultaneously trying not to disrespect their relationship with AT&T, "We also remain deeply appreciative of AT&T’s various commitments to equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans, as exemplified by its excellent employment policies and significant support of LGBT community institutions and initiatives." Keep in mind, the cell company still underwrites GLAAD, afterall.

Why the NAACP is still holding strong

Like, GLAAD, the NAACP has received flack for latching onto the AT&T/T-Mobile-merger cause. They, too, issued official support, ignoring the strange relationship and citing the company's "commitment to diversity in terms of procurement, philanthropy, promotion and hiring at the local, state and national level."

As the Times notes, the NAACP also receives significant funding from the telecommunications company: "The N.A.A.C.P. got at least $1 million from AT&T in 2009."  However, unlike GLAAD, the pressure hasn't yet gotten to the NAACP. After last week's editorial, the Times printed a letter to the editor from the NAACP in which the group reiterates its support for the merger. They don't find their allegiance odd, given that AT&T demonstrates a commitment to racially and ethnically diverse work environments. "Throughout these evaluations, AT&T has demonstrated a commitment to livable wages, meaningful benefits, diversity in its use of contractors and professional development opportunities for its racially and ethnically diverse work force," reads the letter. And though they admit that T-Mobile has a less than stellar record on employee protection, they don't think it matters because AT&T will fix those issues.

T-Mobile has failed to provide adequate protections to its employees and has undermined all attempts by its workers to unionize.

Through the proposed merger, AT&T has committed to providing former T-Mobile employees with the same protection it gives to its own employees. This means better pay and improved quality of life for thousands during this tough economic time when African-American unemployment and underemployment are at historical highs.

Finally, they make it clear that their support has nothing whatsoever to do with AT&T's corporate sponsorship: "We have never taken a position because of corporate sponsorship. Any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous at best."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.