Tech

Lip service to transparency Pt. II: Free Press under-reported amount spent lobbying Congress, FCC, and the NTIA

On December 10, 2009, Ben Scott of Free Press wrote NTIA chief of staff Tom Powers an email, in which he asked for a meeting:

“I wanted to reconnect sometime soon. I hear you’re cooking up the next course in the Net Neutrality debate, and I wanted to offer my culinary advice. I’ve been in the Net Neutrality sausage making business for some years now, and I’m hopeful that I can be useful to you. I had a good meeting with Danny Weitzner a week or two ago – but I wanted to talk about the politics with you. Your intervention will carry enormous weight.”

In a follow up email, Scott and Powers agreed to meet at a Starbucks on December 16. The two met together a total of three times in 2009, according to Powers’ public calendar: Aug. 6, Aug. 26, and Dec. 16. On Aug. 3, 2009 Powers and NTIA staffer Larry Strickland both met with Scott.

And yet–Free Press failed to disclose these meetings in its quarterly LDA reports.

It also failed to disclose on its legally-mandated LDA reports that it helped with two controversial pieces of legislation.

The Broadband Internet Fairness Act, proposed by former Democratic Rep. Eric Massa of New York, would’ve required broadband providers to clear rate hikes with the FTC.

According to PC Mag, the bill was “written with the help of consumer rights groups StoptheCap.com and Free Press.” In the same article, Free Press policy director Ben Scott crowed that the bill was “a really inspiring example where grass-roots activism in response to an unfair business practice by a big corporation led to direct intervention by a congressional leader.”

That same month, Ben Scott appeared on a media conference call to promote the legislation with none other than Rep. Eric Massa.

And yet nowhere on the quarterly LDA report covering June 2009, when the bill was written and unveiled, did Free Press disclose its direct lobbying of Eric Massa’s office.

By omission, Free Press claims to have never lobbied Massa on the bill, to have never secretly met with FCC staffers, and to have spent on average 90% of its lobbying budget on grassroots outreach, and only 10% on affecting policy makers in Washington.

Is the Free Press intentionally underreporting its lobbying activities? Or has the single most vocal lobbying outfit pushing net neutrality simply been incapable, for the last five years, of accurately filling out its LDA forms?