AT&T Illinois will pay $23 million after it admitted to making payments to former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan’s political ally in return for his “vote and influence over a bill,” according to a Friday press release from the Department of Justice (via Ars Technica). The company will also have to cooperate with the government’s investigation into the alleged misconduct and will have to set up a compliance and ethics program that the government will receive reports on. If the company keeps up its end of the bargain, the government will dismiss its prosecution.
According to the DOJ, in 2017 AT&T paid one of Madigan’s allies $22,500 through a lobbying firm that it worked with. AT&T employees tried to make it seem as if the ally had been hired for a specific purpose, but the person wasn’t actually expected to do any work. The president of AT&T Illinois was aware of the deal, and signed off on it being done covertly through the firm, saying in an email that the method was okay “as long as you are sure we will get credit and the box checked.” (In other words, as long as Madigan and his cohorts knew the company had scratched their backs.)
According to Ars Technica, AT&T Illinois was trying to influence a bill that would let it off the hook for providing landline telephone service to everyone in the state. The bill ended up passing, with the state house and senate voting to override the governor’s veto.
An unnamed AT&T spokesperson told Ars Technica: “We hold ourselves and our contractors to the highest ethical standards. We are committed to ensuring that this never happens again.” Given the hefty compliance program it signed with the government (the details take up seven pages in a document posted by the Department of Justice, and you can read them all below if you really feel like it), you’d hope that wouldn’t be the case.
Of course, that’s not to say that AT&T won’t try to use money to influence politics; it, along with other carriers and ISPs, spend millions in donations and lobbying to try and make sure the government passes laws that benefit them. All that’s usually above board, though; just don’t try to directly buy votes via a shady deal.