Sprint also gave money to groups backing AT&T-T-Mobile merger

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Much hay is being made out of AT&T’s financial contributions to organizations that have come out in support of the cell phone provider’s merger with T-Mobile. The implication is that groups like the NAACP and the Urban League are engaging in a little pay for play: support of a high-profile merger in exchange for piles of cash.

Sprint Nextel has been leading the charge in opposing the merger, even filing an official complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to argue, among other things, that the deal would push the industry toward a dangerous duopoly.

The narrative so critical of the AT&T / T-Mobile proposed merger, however, has largely omitted any reference to the fact that Sprint too, has made significant donations to the same organizations that it is now accusing of pay for play.

More than one report specifically targeted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for coming out in early support of the merger while also receiving donations from AT&T.

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But in 2009, Sprint gave the NAACP between $100,00-$199,000 according to its annual report. That same year, its philanthropic arm, Sprint Foundation, gave between $50,000-$99,000 to the NAACP.

The National Urban League is another organization news reports have targeted for supporting AT&T’s merger after accepting AT&T donations. But in 2008. Sprint gave $775,000 to the National Urban League and $100,000 in 2009. Moreover, Sprint was a major sponsor of the League’s conventions both those years, and was even given a Hall of Fame award for donating more than $1 million.

In other words, when it comes to just these two organizations – the NAACP and the Urban League, Sprint has actually donated more than AT&T.

Sprint has also given sizable donations to media reform groups that have publicly opposed the AT&T – T-Mobile merger.

The public-interest group Public Knowledge advertised on its website the fact that Sprint was a “Bronze Donor” for its IP3 Awards Ceremony.  Coincidentally, Public Knowledge also opposes the merger, and wrote in a post on its site that “A merger of this scale is simply unthinkable.”

Sprint is also a member of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which has spoken out against the AT&T merger on behalf of its corporate clients.

The fact is that many of these groups accused of supporting the merger in exchange for financial donations view the joining of AT&T and T-Mobile as a positive movement that will expand access to minorities.

The CEO of the Columbia Urban League, James McLawhorn, said as much in a letter to the FCC in May. “In our work, we are often witness to the obstacles minority Americans face when trying to access mobile broadband and its associated benefits,” he wrote. “This deal would help extricate the barriers keeping our members from attaining these benefits, working toward the end of the digital divide.”

Sprint has not yet returned requests for comment.

Kate Tumarrello contributed to this report

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Amanda Carey