Ever wonder why big cable companies can do whatever they want? It's partly because the FCC keeps its revolving door spinning. But it's also worth knowing that the politicians in charge of regulating the telecom industry not only receive campaign funds from them; some of them directly invest in companies like AT&T and Comcast.

Put more bluntly: Some members of Congress profit from the same companies they're supposed to police. Four members of the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology—that's the committee that's specifically in charge of regulating the telecom industry, including the internet—hold investments in AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. When these companies make big profits, these Congressmen share in them.

Financial disclosures reveal that four members (including the chairman) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and one member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hold personal investments in AT&T, Comcast, and/or Verizon. Some of these men also serve on subcommittees that are specifically in charge of legislating the internet and telecommunications industry. And some of these investments are significant.

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The following details come straight from the lawmakers' 2013 Personal Financial Disclosure statements. (Data from 2014 is not yet available.)


Hon. Fred Upton (R-MI)

Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and ex-officio member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

Sponsored

AT&T* (investment amount: $15,001 - $50,000; reported income from investment: $0)

Comcast* (investment amount: $1,001 - $15,000; reported income from investment: $0)

Verizon (investment amount: $1,001 - $15,000; reported income from investment: $1 - $200)

* Rep. Upton's wife invests $15,001 to $50,000 in AT&T and receives $1,001 to $2,500 in annual income from that investment. She also invests $1,001 - $15,000 in Comcast and receives $1 to $200 in annual income from that investment.


Hon. John Dingell (D-MI)

Member of House Energy and Commerce Committee and all six subcommittees including the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

AT&T (investment amount: $1,001 - $15,000; reported income from investment: $0)

Comcast (investment amount: $15,001 - $50,000; reported income from investment: $201 - $1,000)



Leonard Lance (R-NJ)

Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

AT&T (investment amount: $15,001 - $50,000; reported income from investment: $2,501 - $5,000)

Comcast (investment amount: $1,001 - $15,000; reported income from investment: $1 - $200)

Verizon (investment amount: $15,001 - $50,000; reported income from investment: $201 - $1,000)

* All of Rep. Lance's investments in these companies come from his stake in the estate of Mae Anderson. It's plausible that he did not actively invest in these companies.


Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

Senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

Verizon* (Investment amount: it's complicated; reported income from investment: it's complicated)

* Rep. Pallone's wife invests $15,001 to $50,000 in Verizon and receives $201 to $1,000 in annual income from that investment. Three of his children invest $1,001 to $15,001 in Verizon, and two of them receive $1 to $200 in annual income from those investments. The third receives $0.


The legality of these investments is a contentious issue. Lawmakers investing in anything is always a bit dicey, since they often have access to information that the public does not. In 2012, Congress passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act to address those potential conflicts. This increased transparency by adding new disclosure requirements for lawmakers and some members of the executive branch.

However, for the most part, it's not illegal at all for lawmakers to invest in the companies that they regulate. "In sum, there are no restrictions on any kind of investments," Meredith McGhee, Policy Director at the Campaign Legal Center, told Gizmodo. "Members in the House (and Senate) are not required to divest. To recuse or abstain from voting, they have to have a 'direct personal or pecuniary interest in the event of such question.' That is interpreted to mean when legislation affects a 'class' of people and not a few individuals."

The issue is especially pressing now. Despit President Obama's recent statements about net neutrality, the FCC won't be addressing net neutrality until next year, the agency's spokeswomen said recently. This could complicate the debate quite a bit. A few weeks of FCC stalling gives others in Washington—namely lobbyists and—more time to get involved. President Obama's net neutrality plan lit many fires under many asses. And now, Congress is warming up to the idea of intervening in the FCC's process.

It's possible that some of these lawmakers have shed all or part of their investments in big cable, but it doesn't seem likely. We contacted each of the congressmen and asked them to clarify whether they kept their investments from 2013 in their portfolio for 2014. No one provided an answer either way in time for this story.

Image by Michael Hession