Corrupting The Process

In New York, a recent release by the Attorney General’s office reported the results of an  investigation into efforts by “Big Telecom” to defeat Net Neutrality. It seems that in 2017, major U.S. telecom companies pumped “millions of dollars into a secret campaign” to flood the FCC with millions of fake comments supporting the agency’s  repeal of net neutrality protections.

The product of a multi-year investigation, the new report (pdf) details an industry-backed effort to create the appearance of “widespread grassroots support” for then-FCC chair Ajit Pai’s broadly unpopular repeal of net neutrality rules.

I have written before about Ajit Pai who was put in charge of the FCC by the Trump Administration in furtherance of that administration’s intent to make online life easier–and more lucrative– for monied interests. Apparently, simply installing a tool at the FCC wasn’t seen as sufficient; so the industry’s “big guys” decided to give Pai’s efforts a boost.

“In 2017, the nation’s largest broadband companies funded a secret campaign to generate millions of comments to the FCC. Many of these comments provided ‘cover’ for the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules,” the investigation found. “To help generate these comments, the broadband industry engaged commercial lead generators that used prizes—like gift cards and sweepstakes entries—to lure consumers to their websites and join the campaign.”

“However, nearly every lead generator that was hired to enroll consumers in the campaign, instead, simply fabricated consumers’ responses,” the report states, noting that 8.5 million fake comments in favor of net neutrality repeal were generated by the effort.

New York AG Letitia James issued a statement that identified the danger of such campaigns: the fabrication of responses in order to influence public policies drowns out  actual responses from the American people, distorting public opinion and defeating passage of laws and regulations that should be responsive to that opinion.

“Today, we are taking action to root out this fraud and the impersonation that has been corrupting the process for far too long,” James continued. “From net neutrality rules to laws affecting criminal justice reform, healthcare, and more, these fake comments have simply been generated to influence too many government policies, which is why we are cracking down on this illegal and deceptive behavior.”

James also announced that the AG’s office had negotiated settlements with three of the companies that had generated millions of false comments on behalf of Big Telecom—Fluent, Inc, Opt-Intelligence, Inc., and React2Media, Inc. Those companies will pay more than $4.4 million in penalties and disgorgement; significantly, they will also be required to implement “comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns.”

Supporters of Net Neutrality had suspected something of this sort, and this investigation confirmed those suspicions. Unfortunately, it confirmed something even more troubling–the extent to which presumably reputable American business interests engage in (or at the very least, wink at) corrupt behaviors.

I still remember how shocked I was when my middle son, who was then traveling through India, told me about the frustration of an Indian friend. The friend ran an orphanage and wanted to increase its capacity to care for abandoned children. In order to get a permit for the expansion, he was expected to pay a fairly substantial bribe to the official responsible for issuing such permits. My son said that such expectations were widespread, not particularly secretive, and just as applicable to “do-gooders” as to more profitable enterprises.

We Americans used to pride ourselves on the absence of such expectations in our dealings with government officials, petty and not-so petty.

When societies become desensitized to corrupt behavior, when “winning” and/or profiting are the only metrics that matter, it’s a short distance to the normalization of outright bribery and other highly unethical practices.

The corruption that attended the fight over Net Neutrality is so troubling because it may well be a “canary in the coal mine”– a very worrisome omen.


  1. Speaking of “highly unethical practices”….
    I am upset by the continued presence of DeJoy at the helm of OUR Post Office.
    That destructive Trumper needs to be gone. He continues to do damage to our oldest federal asset.

  2. Is there a line at which a society becomes so corrupt that there is no redemption for it? I’ve been thinking of late that there is such a place, and that surely we have crossed it.

  3. Patmcc, I fear Mr. DeJoy has been strategically placed to degrade postal services, and frustrate and dissatisfy postal customers, in order to create demand for a private sector operator of the U.S. Postal Service.

  4. Corporations, industries and individuals (Trump and McConnell) who have millions to use corrupting systems, and I include our governing system, should be investigated. But…who is there to do the investigating; consider the blockage of creating the Insurrection Investigation Commission; whose money is behind that? Isn’t the insurrection an area the AG’s office should be investigating rather than having a party-line vote regarding the NEED for an investigation? (patmcc’s comments regarding DeJoy’s continuing destructive tactics in the USPS are another point in fact) And how much of it is being used to continue bogus “widespread grassroots support”for the corrupt Trump Party? When the minority party is still controlling much of Congress, and the publication via the FCC of the percentages of public support is becoming the foundation of that support, who does the investigating and who do they investigate?

    “James also announced that the AG’s office had negotiated settlements with three of the companies that had generated millions of false comments on behalf of Big Telecom—Fluent, Inc, Opt-Intelligence, Inc., and React2Media, Inc. Those companies will pay more than $4.4 million in penalties and disgorgement; significantly, they will also be required to implement “comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns.”

    How much good do the above “negotiated settlements” do when the public is not aware of the investigation or the settlements or the facts behind the “generated millions of false comments”? Our tax dollars paid for the AG’s Office investigation; so, where is our benefit from the results? Did their investigation and “negotiated settlements” STOP the false comments at any level?

  5. patmcc and Gordon Evans; dare I post on this widely read blog a USPS practice to ATTEMPT to circumvent DeJoy’s corrupt practices? Being a mouthy old broad I will; my bills are all arriving in time to pay on time and my payments are being picked up and obviously delivered on time as I have thus far received no late fees to pay. There will be 2 days, occasionally 3, which I receive no mail at all; then I will receive 6 to 8 political or advertising letters and circulars on one day. I believe USPS carriers are sorting our mail by their importance; the carriers in my area are often working late in the day to complete deliveries.

    Theresa Bowers is as usual on point regarding the corruption we are dealing with. It became blatantly public with the appointment of Mitch McConnell to carry out the stalling or stopping of President Obama’s progress on major issues and McConnell continues today. The fact that his power over the Senate continues while being the minority is the most dangerous corruption we are facing because all Republicans in Congress are following his lead. And those polls reporting the support of Republicans voting to pass voter suppression bills is a major part of the continuing corruption.

  6. Corruption?

    “Shocked, shocked I say”

    Look at all of the so-called flash polls that are claiming to be scientifically conducted!

    Facebook and the Google machine are packed with them! And, you can bet, besides being clickbait, there are other nefarious using’s for these polls. After all, who’s to say where the polling metrics came from, what was the initial poll concerning, but the end result is a favorable poll waiting for a question to be added.

    When these companies are caught perpetrating a public fraud or any fraudulent behavior whatsoever, they should be disbanded! The/Those company/companies should be dissolved and any assets should be put into some sort of fund for the public good! (Just wondering how many of these companies are using office space in New York?)

    IN This day and age, with all due respect to Leticia James, 4 Million from those companies is just like peeing in the ocean. It makes no difference!

  7. There is a “coincidence” about the IRS not chasing the wealthiest and corporations left to self-regulate and when caught, paying measly fines and making mushy promises to do better. How come the EU can ratchet things up (if only a bit)?

  8. When I started my independent investigation into local corruption and then state corruption, I wondered if this was the modus operandi in Indiana, how much further up the chain is this the case.

    It only gets worse. In other countries, bribing public officials is against the law. Not in the United States of America. In fact, it’s a requirement. It’s a standard cost of doing business.

    It’s so bad, that businesses have learned to do it secretly like the Koch brothers have been doing for a very long time. Marx kind of predicted it. It’s the nature of man which is why it requires so many checks and balances. Without them, people will do what people do.

    There are several organizations out there where I get some good material that is holding our government and corporate world accountable but it’s so prevalent they need an army of donations and the public doesn’t fund it. Our government or private sector won’t fund it.

    The only independent journalists I trust now are on Substack where they charge a subscription rate. These investigative journalists are doing outstanding work but, like me, they are not hirable at our news agencies or universities. Truth-seekers aren’t wanted in this world of corruption.

    Hate to repeat myself, but Einstein pointed out in 1949 that the oligarchy has corrupted the government (both political parties) and our free press. He concluded that there is no way a voter can make an informed decision for their own best interests. There are a couple of journalists researching the 1/6 insurrection and despite all the writings from all the intelligent people on this blog, the matter goes so far down into the QAnon hole that you will lose your shit when you read it. I spent much of yesterday sifting through some of it, and I could hardly stomach it.

    Anyhow, I was doing research on a simple Memorial Day tribute and ran across Judy Garland’s version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She wanted to pay tribute to her dear friend JFK who had been recently assassinated by the CIA on her weekly show in 1963, but CBS told her she couldn’t. She sang it anyway with the tribute. Several people in the audience knew who it was for and she got a standing ovation. Enjoy!!

  9. Let me just ask, how many of you have gone to the Federal Register to comment on any proposed regulation? It’s just not something that a lot of people do. It is something that corporate interests and their lobbyists do regularly. They get on the site and predict doom and gloom for anything that might inconvenience them or cost them money. And they’ll pay any amount to make it go away, because that’s where law really gets made.

  10. heres how NoDak leases their broadband areas,,, get a bid in, and do the paperwork, its done on blind bids.. next, wait for a competeing bid,, none. some private towers exist already, and they lease the tower to whoever. like a land site with electric etc provided. now, since this is NoDak, alot of it doesnt have any broadband a cell service,or is severly lacking, or,we get to drop out because, some small enity wont play ball with A or V on their, leased areas.. now imagine dropping out of V into small and losing service? everyday here for me. of course ill say,if ya dial,tap, er, 911 you will get something.. why dosent the state require coverage that is in the public good then? $$$$$$..if ya dont require it by law,then it will never get done…
    and thats how most states operate, whos got the most money and the song and dance of lack of customers relate to areas that will never being covered. but now we have a society that needs broadband like a car needs has. alot of employment nowdays demand online applications..and since no on here is opening a new buisness independant of a corp lease agreement,we only have corprate interest opening stores here..(think about that one too) (blackrock) _the broadband industry demands thier share and fine, we all pay way more than its worth, and that gets funneled into
    developing broadband in third world areas, like Sheila said, by diffrent here, like football, just play around the come Ajit Pai, asswipe of lawyers and scam artist with his buddies to thwart rules,and hire, outside scam shows to plow down more of the profits for, the various corps making the money,while laughing at us. keep texting it will only get better right? this is what and how the republiquans want our society to become, and hell why not,ya got every one whos against governent regs,on thier side. we should be mentioning the ones who get the money ,like A or V etc, as the winners of this shell game ajit played..names,names names, in a public forum and why…the Native American communites here and SoDak, are a standing testiment of ignoring people, their broadband/Cell seldom cover any area or, bps to operate.

    just a note also. seems my now, local e mail account,has to pump more bps than say aol. my former e mail,aol..seems that my new e mail,being a small company, they have a vast more bps to operate than my aol. this was just discovered when my existing wifi hot spot wont pump it fast enough,when im on the road, even in a 5g area.and i get timed out, whereas,aol works great, when im using the same wifi hot spot,anywhere…does aol and the like have something over the small companies like the one im presently using? this may be another game here too..

  11. John:
    being i never use google or face, does that leave me to read viable journalism thats readily
    available, at least for now?

  12. JoAnn.
    ditto on the USPS, if ya wanna get a ire up, when rush was pushed into the ground,
    they all lowered their flags to half staff here in respect for them took a ,major hit..

  13. This should be a major news story. Eliminating net neutrality to profit a few was not surprising given the Trump view that this how all of the world should function. The level of corruption underneath it IS surprising. And the continuous assault on our essential national belief that we can “trust” how it all works and can be relied upon will, in the end, make us third-world once that trust is gone. If it isn’t already.

  14. “I don’t mind corruption, as long as I get my piece.” I’ve probably put that quote out here before. I overheard it in a gym locker room many years ago, did not see who said it, but there you have it.
    Yes, DeJoy was put there for no reason other than to degrade the USPS, and, hopefully, have it moved to the private sector so DeJoy, and buddies could make a boatload of money from it. That it could be used to spin the latest election in Trump’s direction, was an afterthought, thought of by these kinds of patriots.
    Letitia James is a breath of fresh air!

  15. Gee this sounds a lot like Campaign Contributions and Lobbyists. Corruption in the USA, who would have guessed.

    Back when I worked for a big multi-national financial company, we had to take an on line course concerning bribery and the penalties for bribery.

  16. Jack at 9:23 AM,

    Absolutely, LOL!

    There’s nothing better than grabbing a paper or papers and sitting in a booth eating a breakfast sandwich and drinking a cup of coffee while reading for an hour or two! And, of course you’re going to get alternating and slanted information from newspapers, as in Chicago here with the Tribune and the Sun-Times. But, I imagine it’s that way everywhere. That’s why it usually takes more than one or two newspapers to get an appropriate perspective. There are definitely fewer and fewer muckrakers out there, and, the news that you like, is costing more and more to read. I remember spending a dime on newspapers when I was a kid. I would get all four Chicago papers for my grandmother. Now, if you look at the subscriptions for online membership for these newspapers, some of them are quite pricey per month! If you want to read a lot of papers, you’ll need to get a second job…….

  17. In my limited experience, but I can’t offer any data evidence, corruption at all levels is proportional to wealth redistribution up. I have first-hand experience only from living in Mexico for a while on a work relocation.

    We were told by the company that if we were ever involved in a traffic accident with serious consequences for others to run and hide. The company would get us out of the country and take care of any “problems”. The alternative, time spent in a Mexican jail, was too harsh to even consider.

    Money solved any legal issue.

    I don’t know if the wealth relocated by Republicans since Reagan has accumulated enough to have the effect it did in Mexico yet, but if not, it apparently will.

  18. As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel.

    Corporations, which should be the carefully constrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.
    Grover Cleveland, State of the Union 1885–1888

  19. Memorial Day is a good day to dream of what folks died for (or thought they died for). How about if every proposed law or regulation had to be examined by “the best and brightest” working for the people, instead of the rich, and figuring out IN ADVANCE how it could be worked around, used for advantage, etc. (i.e. the stuff put in by lobbyists)…and laying it bare in hearings. At least, we would find out if “the people” even care…

  20. Gosh, do you mean to tell me that “public pressure” isn’t public? Who would have thunk it? I am shocked, shocked! Not!

    Nearly all corporations are state-chartered and politicians in such states vie for the weakest statutory governance provisions they can in order to attract “home offices” of such institutions. Delaware has the weakest but Oklahoma has weakened its governance provisions in such competition. Perhaps GM will move from Dover to Oklahoma City.

    Now that corporations are “people” I suppose next they can vote, but they will never go for that in public view because as corporations they already have the vote – with their campaign contributions – and need not invite the fury of us angry citizens by making it official. Until we equate corporate campaign contributions with bribery and pass exclusive public financing for political campaigns I see no political Balm in Gilead.

  21. Jo Ann, about investigating (or failing to investigate) the 1-6 attack on the Capital, mass opinion and Senate response to it would be a lot more influenced to investigate by Special Commission if we consistently referred to the incident as THE ATTACK TO STOP AN AMERICAN ELECTION. Assaulting a building, an inanimate thing, regardless of sentiment or import, is too much like burning the flag or overturning a police car—something to get one’ s patriotic dander afliver for a moment but nothing worth the work (and maybe blood) of finding cause, fault, and preventive solution. Wording matters. Or so Republicans but not Democrats have noted.

  22. Larry Kaiser; did you forget those FIVE DEAD PEOPLE, the dozens of injured people – some serious and permanently, the Vice President specifically being hunted down to hang with the noose prepared and waiting, seeking the Speaker of the House with plastic handcuffs at the ready, government documents and personal items destroyed or stolen, stoppage of official counting of the official presidential election results until that “assaulted building” was safe to reenter?

    INSURRECTION is the legal term for THE ATTACK TO STOP AN AMERICAN ELECTION. And the investigation was not going to include those “visiting tourists” the Republicans believe should be ignored.

  23. Since none of you has raised a hand, should I assume that you never go to the Federal Register to comment?

  24. WADR. Why bother? The lobbyists wrote the law/regulation and will also control the amendments and the text will be in legalize/beauroize. Someone needs to cite examples of where such comments have made a material difference.

  25. Having spent my career as an IT network engineer setting up routers and switches to prioritize certain traffic over others, I know how crucial, or disruptive traffic shaping can be. I took the time to comment on the FCC case, strongly in favor of net neutrality.

    The small guy cannot afford to pay for professional lobbyists, so I know the way the deck is currently stacked. Those fines are paltry compared to the potential consequences of the rule changes.

  26. I remember when a friend ran a newspaper in Donaldson Parish, Louisiana (OK – 50 years ago) – he covered the entire Gulf Coast. He used to regale me with stories of government contracts being awarded to a mayor’s son or a Commissioner’s brother-in-law. The corruption was so prevalent, all that he could do was report it and smirk (I suppose that’s big northern city arrogance, but–)

    Of course, what I have learned about life in China from my wife is that bribery is a way of life. Free medical care gets you a hospital bed. If you want actual care, you better grease many palms, starting with the doctor’s.

    I have often said that corporations were imagined as legal fictions that exist at the sufferance of the state, but now the state exists at the sufferance of the corporations, but Wayne’s quote from Grover Cleveland states it well and shows how long this has been a real problem. Thanks for the quote, Wayne.

  27. Todd E Smekens – Thank you, WOW … that brought me to tears. What an incredible rendition, and only a month or so after his assassination. Again… WOW !

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