An Endowed Chair

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McCain "has to take responsibility," Jenkins says. "He's head of the Senate committee that oversees these things."

America West Airlines has donated at least $11,500 to McCain. John Timmons, a former McCain staffer and current lobbyist for America West, has donated $2,000. His firm, Higgins, McGovern and Smith, has donated another $3,000.

McCain successfully bargained to get 24 slots for National Airport, but the deal is on hold because the FAA authorization bill was not passed before November 19, when Congress adjourned.


Of the many industries impacted by the Senate Commerce Committee, the most prominent is telecommunications. It is also the most lucrative for McCain, who has raked in at least $1 million from people and PACs in the industry.

The issues vary and the players change sides from issue to issue, so it is tough to pin a particular campaign contribution on a particular vote.

But two things are clear:

Just about all the major players in the telecom industry donate big bucks to McCain, and his actions -- big and small -- on the Senate Commerce Committee have the ability to make or break their businesses.

Microsoft is one of McCain's biggest donors, having given at least $32,250.

It's the Senate Judiciary Committee, not Commerce, that has jurisdiction over antitrust issues like the one Microsoft is embroiled in, yet McCain made noise last year about convening related hearings before his committee. At about the same time, Microsoft hosted a fund raiser for him in Seattle.

And many Commerce Committee actions do affect Microsoft. The company has interests in phone and satellite companies, and McCain has jurisdiction over Internet legislation affecting privacy. He has supported legislation that requires schools and libraries to use filters to limit kids' access to pornography. Internet taxation is fodder for Commerce, too, and McCain sponsored the Internet Tax Freedom Act, now law, which prohibits states and local jurisdictions from taxing Internet activities. That legislation was celebrated by Microsoft and other Internet-related companies.

McCain gladdened Internet providers in May when he introduced a bill to keep the Internet free of government regulation. The measure was designed to encourage companies to expand high-speed Internet networks all over the country. The regional phone companies, all of whom rank among McCain's top donors, including US West ($103,700) and Bell South ($56,000), strongly support the measure. But long-distance companies such as AT&T ($52,250) and cable television companies such as Time Warner ($12,000) are opposed.

Interests on both sides of the debate over the Satellite Home Viewers Act have contributed to McCain. Last week, McCain refused to endorse the final version of the bill, which was approved by Congress as part of the omnibus budget agreement and now goes to the president. The measure was designed to level the playing field for satellite and cable television providers. McCain says -- and consumer groups agree -- that the bill is not fair because it does not grant satellite companies authority to broadcast local programming, something cable providers can do.

Cable interests such as the National Cable Television Association have given him at least $9,394. But so have satellite companies -- the most notable is EchoStar, whose chairman, Charlie Ergen, hosted a spring fund raiser for McCain that reportedly garnered more than $40,000.

Cable companies may be unhappy with McCain's stance on the Satellite Home Viewers Act, but if they're in the market to own TV stations, they'll love a bill the senator introduced in September. The measure would allow TV station groups to buy more. Owners would be allowed to reach 50 percent of U.S. households, rather than the current 35 percent. Owners would also be allowed to own a television station and newspaper in the same market.

Consumer groups oppose the measure, saying it would further limit the number of voices in the market; non-network affiliates don't like it, either.

But mega-companies like Viacom ($55,250) and Fox Broadcasting ($19,050) stand to benefit.

McCain isn't always decisive on telecommunications issues. Sometimes, he simply sits back and waits. That's the case with the continuing debate over how to fix the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act was supposed to lower phone rates by encouraging competition among long-distance carriers and the Baby Bells; instead, it has led to mergers among companies and resulted in higher cable and phone rates.

McCain, one of a handful to vote against the bill in 1996, has expressed concern over the ramifications of the new law -- but he hasn't suggested any legislative remedies. Instead, over the past several months he's held a series of hearings on the matter, summoning the CEOs of these communications Goliaths before him to testify.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.