Last week, on June 20, the House of Representatives approved a compromise bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). The bill sets new electronic surveillance rules that effectively shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits resulting from the government’s warrantless eavesdropping on phone calls and viewing of emails of private citizens in the U.S. Approximately 40 lawsuits have been filed with potential damages totaling in the billions of dollars.

On March 14 of this year the House passed an amendment that rejected retroactive immunity for phone carriers who helped the National Security Agency carry out the illegal wiretapping program without proper warrants. Ninety-four House Democrats voted in favor of this measure–rejecting immunity–on March 14, then ‘changed’ to vote in favor of the June 20 House bill–approving immunity.

“Why did these ninety-four House members have a change of heart?” asked Daniel Newman, executive director of MAPLight.org, “Their constituents deserve answers.”

MAPLight.org’s research department compiled PAC campaign contributions from Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint and correlated them with the voting records of all House members who voted on last week’s FISA bill. (The analysis used data from CRP; contributions were from January 2005 through March 2008). Here are the findings:

Comparing Democrats’ Votes (March 14th and June 20th votes):

Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint gave PAC contributions averaging:

$8,359 to each Democrat who changed their position to support immunity for Telcos (94 Dems)
$4,987 to each Democrat who remained opposed to immunity for Telcos (116 Dems)

88 percent of the Dems who changed to supporting immunity (83 Dems of the 94) received PAC contributions from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint during the last three years (Jan. 2005-Mar. 2008).

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Mystech: Chump changed compared to the billions the Telecomms potentially faced in lawsuits from American citizens.