Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) today urged the U.S. Senate to reject a bill that would provide immunity to telecommunications companies who helped the Bush administration secretly eavesdrop domestic telephone calls and computers from September 11, 2001-this year. The bill, which was negotiated with the Bush administration, was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee last Thursday.

The bill as currently drafted directs civil courts to drop all lawsuits against telecommunications companies that were in essence spying on their customers and turning over data to the government. Suits would be dropped if the attorney general certifies that the companies assisted the government in terrorism investigation. Cases would also be dropped if the attorney general certified that companies did not assist the government in terrorism investigations.

“Like most of his promises, President Bush’s inauguration day pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution has been folded away and forgotten. From torture to secret prisons and wiretapping, this administration systematically has stripped away or ignored many of the most basic rights and principles upon which this nation was founded. This unprecedented assault on American laws and values, cloaked falsely and irresponsibly in the guise of national security, must be stopped,” Richardson said.

Richardson criticized the Senate for this compromise. “Incredibly, the Senate stands on the verge of abetting another Presidential outrage by considering a bill that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies that admitted to assisting the government in spying on American citizens by disclosing personal information. This bill must not pass.”

He also took Clinton and Obama to task for saying that they don’t support the bill, but still leaving the door open to vote for it. “We need strong leadership to prevent this latest injustice, not equivocation or political calculation. Senators Clinton and Obama say they will oppose the bill, but are leaving the door open to a potential compromise. There can be no compromise on personal rights and privacy. I urge my Democratic primary opponents, and every Senator, to stand up and state loudly and clearly — without any equivocation — that he or she will not pass any bill that grants retroactive immunity to companies that willingly aided the Bush administration in violating the law and spying on our own people.”

The White House claims that they will veto the bill without the immunity provision, but why shouldn’t the telecommunications companies be taken to court? Why do they get a free pass here? Could it be because the communications industry gave $70 billion to candidates in both parties last year, or maybe because they have already given $28 billion this year? According to ,68% of their contributions this year have gone to Democrats.

The communications sector is the fifth largest donor to the Clinton campaign, and it is not surprisingly the fifth largest donor to the Obama campaign. No wonder the two Democratic frontrunners are so willing to compromise on this issue. The telecommunications companies would stand to lose millions upon millions if they lost in court.

President Bush is trying to protect big business, and an industry that went along with his administration’s illegal plans, but there is no good reason for Democrats to accept this compromise. Richardson is correct the Democratic Party and their top presidential candidates need to place personal rights and privacy ahead of campaign contributions.

Richarson’s statement

Jason Easley is the politics editor at His column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jason is also the host of TPU Radio, which can be heard at every Sunday morning at 11 AM ET.



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