In the fight over retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who participated in the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program after 9/11, a popular right-wing meme has been that “the real reason Democrats oppose immunity” is because they are allegedly beholden to trial lawyers who “want to push massive class action suits against the telecom companies.” Even though the claim is false, the theme has been echoed by the entire conservative infrastructure.
Robert Novak pushed it in his Washington Post column while Rush Limbaugh aired the charge on his radio show. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) alleged it on the Senate floor and White House Press Secretary Dana Perino made the claim on Fox News.
President Bush made the same unfounded claims in his press conference today, speculating that “class action plaintiffs attorneys” see “a financial gravy train” in “trying to sue” telecommunications companies. Watch it:
If anyone is looking for a “financial gravy train,” it’s conservatives. Roll Call reports that congressional conservatives are “grumbling” and “griping” that their efforts to protect telecoms haven’t yielded more contributions from the industry:
With the House Democrats’ refusal to grant retroactive immunity to phone companies — stalling the rewrite of the warrantless wiretapping program — GOP leadership aides are grumbling that their party isn’t getting more political money from the telecommunications industry. [...]
In a reflection of the sensitivity of the subject matter, and an apparent recognition that they would undermine their own messaging by appearing to be motivated by fundraising concerns, Republicans on and off Capitol Hill declined to comment on the record. [...]
“There’s no question that from time to time staff, and maybe some Members, say to fellow travelers: ‘Are you giving us some air cover? Are you helping us help you?’”
Despite GOP complaints that their efforts to grant retroactive immunity for the industry aren’t being financially rewarded, three out of the four major phone companies “still give a majority to Republicans,” though “by slimmer margins than in years past.”