By Rachel Leven and Kevin Bogardus - 09/27/11 10:00 AM EDT
LightSquared, the wireless telecom firm facing Republican complaints that it has benefited from political ties to the White House, has significantly boosted its lobbying this year.
The company has more than doubled the number of lobbying firms on its payroll, from four to nine K Street shops, in the first half of 2011.
If LightSquared’s lobbying spending continues at this clip, the company will spend more on K Street this year than any year since the company first hired lobbyists in 2001, according to a review of lobbying disclosure records by The Hill.
The company is developing high-speed cellphone service using a network of satellites and land-based cell towers, and has been in a lobbying fight with the GPS industry.
After tests found that LightSquared’s network did interfere with GPS devices — a big concern for the U.S. military — the FCC decided the company would not get final approval for its network until the issue is resolved.
Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy, told The Hill that GPS device-makers have decided to lobby heavily against LightSquared after it was found its network could interfere with their devices. He and LightSquared argue the problem has to do with GPS systems, not LightSquared.
“At the end of the last year, the GPS industry had identified an interference issue caused by their receivers and they decided to plow a significant amount of money to stop us building our network,” Carlisle told The Hill. “This really goes to the existence of the company. We took the rational decision of getting our story out there by adding consultants.”
Complaints from House Republicans were raised after a Daily Beast report said an Air Force general was pressured by the White House to make his testimony about Lightsquared more favorable to the company and LightSquared’s executives were also found to be emailing with White House aides. Republicans also have noted the timing of campaign contributions made to Democrats over the past two years by Philip Falcone, the company’s major investor, and other LightSquared executives.
The five firms new to LightSquared’s lobbying payroll this year are American Continental Group, Ballard Spahr, Dickstein Shapiro, Gephardt Group Government Affairs and Nethercutt Consulting.
The nine firms have a total of at least 26 lobbyists working on behalf of LightSquared. At least 21 of those lobbyists are new to the company this year.
The company, formerly known as SkyTerra, first hired lobbyists in 2001 — specifically Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, both of which still hold accounts with the company today.
Some of the new lobbyists are well-known on Capitol Hill and in national politics. Ex-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) are both lobbying for LightSquared.
The company’s K Street roster also includes prominent Republicans, such as former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and ex-Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.).
LightSquared contends the GPS industry has set out to hurt its business.
“This is us against multiple companies and user groups, each of whom bring their own lobbying resources to the fight,” Carlisle said.
LightSquared has denied any undue political influence on its part.
“Any suggestion that LightSquared has run roughshod over the regulatory process is contradicted by the reality of eight long years spent gaining approvals,” said Sanjiv Ahuja, the CEO of LightSquared, in a Sept. 15 statement.
Ahuja also said it is “ludicrous” to suggest that his company’s success is due to political ties.
“About $10,600 sits in the LightSquared PAC,” Ahuja said. “The founder of LightSquared has given to candidates in both political parties in the last eight years, with two-thirds of his contributions going to Republicans because of the founder’s free-market philosophy. I gave $30,400 in contributions to both parties in late 2010.”