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Telecom groups pay lobbyists top dollar

Washington telecommunications lobbying associations are offering top salaries and benefits as they compete for talent with the very companies they represent.

WASHINGTON--Washington telecommunications lobbying associations are offering top salaries and benefits as they compete for talent with the very companies they represent.

A number of executives have salary and benefits packages exceeding $1 million annually, according to the most current Internal Revenue Service filings available for Washington lobbying associations, which are nonprofit and must disclose top salaries.

Salaries at top telecom companies can be high, and unlike associations, those companies can also lure candidates with stock options. Accordingly, compensation for Washington lobbyists has continued to increase in recent years in an attempt to recruit and retain top talent. But the latest data show that industry companies still are luring away top minds.

Those companies, and the law firms the companies hire for additional lobbying, are private, for-profit entities and aren't required to disclose lobbyist salaries. Trade associations, however, typically are not-for-profit, and in exchange for the myriad tax benefits that status gives them they are required to make certain information available, including top salaries.

The IRS filings were first compiled by the trade newsletter Communications Daily.

Among the highest-paid association executives in 1999, the most recent year available from IRS forms, was Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), with $1.23 million in salary and benefits through May 2000, up 19 percent from $1.03 million a year earlier.

CTIA also paid $622,572 to senior vice president Margaret Tutwiler (former State Department spokeswoman during the Bush administration) and $541,366 to former senior vice president Brian Fontes, which wasn't enough to keep him from jumping to Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of SBC and BellSouth.

Roy Neel, president of the United States Telecom Association (USTA), earned $1.21 million in 1999, including $559,600 in compensation and $654,300 in benefits. That total was down slightly from $1.24 million a year earlier. Neel took a leave of absence this fall to work for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign.

USTA reported $860,714 in direct lobbying expenses, although CTIA declined to report any estimate.

Compared with other top executives, Michael Brunner as head of the National Telephone Cooperative Association (NTCA) received a pauper's pay in 1999 at $500,869. Given NTCA's client base of rural telephone companies, however, its lower salaries aren't necessarily surprising. NTCA reported $680,670 in lobbying costs.

IRS forms for other top lobbying groups, such as the National Cable Telecom Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, are not yet available.