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NASCAR Sleeze

The Merger of Sen. Max Baucus and Leo Giacometto

by JOSHUA FRANK

It doesn’t get much more devious than this. Last month, on the 30 of October, Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana held a little "NASCAR Fundraiser" in Atlanta, Georgia. The cause and locale were far from Big Sky Country. Attendees of the benefit forked over $2,500 a piece to eat breakfast at the lavish Ritz-Carlton Hotel and spend an afternoon at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The brains behind the peddle-to-the-metal fundraiser belonged to Leo Giacometto, a sleazy Republican operative who served as Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns’ Chief of Staff during the latter part of the 1990s. Giacometto was one of the key architects of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and has since enjoyed the turnstile environment of Washington politics and now heads up Gage LLC, a corporate lobbying firm based in DC.

Giacometto has long been a key player in national telecom policy and some of his firm’s top clients include AT&T, Nextel, MCI, and Bresnan Communications. Giacometto’s old boss Conrad Burns chairs the Commerce Committee subcommittee on telecommunications and Max Baucus is a ranking member of the finance committee, which also plays a huge role in developing national telecom policy.

Leo Giacometto is paying to play.

According to Barrett Kaiser, a spokesperson for Senator Max Baucus, Giacometto is working for free for the Senator’s reelection campaign, which is coming up in 2008. "Max has enjoyed widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans over his many years serving Montanans," Kaiser told the Billings Gazette, "He’s proud of that support."

"I believe that he’s good for what I believe in," prattled Giacometto.

Indeed, Baucus is good for Giacometto’s interests. The senator is an ardent supporter of market deregulation and voted in favor of the atrocious 1996 Telecommunications Act, which has undermined competition and allowed huge telecommunications companies to gobble up the industry. Of course, monstrous corporations like those that Giacometto represents and Baucus regulates prefer mergers and acquisitions to competition, and their lobbying for the 1996 Act have paid off in full.

Despite the lustrous guarantees, the Telecommunications Act has done anything but increase market competition. In fact, the complete opposite has occurred. Smaller companies have not been able to even dent the monopoly strongholds of the dominant companies, gaining only one percent of the market share overall since the passage of the Act, reports the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Report.

For example, "The major cable companies, who have never competed with each other, continue to refuse to invade each others’ service areas. Instead, they have merged and swapped wires creating huge dominant national players holding tightly controlled clusters with joint ventures permeating the industry," says the Consumers Union.

To put it simply: the consumers have not fared well, the industry giants have.

Of course, Giacometto and Baucus knew all too well this would occur. That’s why the companies that benefited have since padded Giacometto’s salary and Baucus’ campaign coffers.

After President Bill Clinton signed the Act into law in February of 1996, AT&T went ahead and bought TCI Corporation, Bell Atlantic and NYNEX merged, Southwestern Bell and PacTel merged to become SBC and then purchased Ameritech, MCI Communications and WorldCom joined to become MCI WorldCom and Bell Atlantic and GTE merged to become Verizon.

This is monopolization, not capitalism. Not surprisingly, Verizon has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Max Baucus.

Soon, we are likely to see Giacometto raise bundles for his former employer Senator Burns’ reelection campaign which comes up next year. Business in Washington isn’t about party loyalty or ideology or constituents; it’s about greed, corruption and campaign donations. That’s why Giacometto has no qualms with working for both the Republicans and Democrats. It’s pays off and pays well.

No doubt Montana wouldn’t benefit much, if at all, by reelecting Senator Max Baucus. Of course, that’s what Leo Giacometto and the industries he represents are counting on it.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the brand new book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.