06.19.2013 0

Paying back donors with ‘Obamaphone’ program

By Willie Deutsch

We all remember the Obamaphone video from the 2012 presidential elections.  In it an enthusiastic Obama supporter urged everyone to vote for Obama and get their free Obamaphone.  “Everybody in Cleveland, every minority, got an Obamaphone. Keep Obama as president. He gave us a phone. He gonna’ do more.”

At the time it was seen as naked vote buying through a government program, but it may be even more sinister than that.

The Lifeline Program is the name of the program used to give out “Obamaphones.”  It was created in 1984 to provide landline service to low-income households.  It was meant to help poor people have a phone number to list on job applications and applications to other programs.  In 2008 the program was expanded to include providing mobile phones.  In 2008 it was a $143 million program.  By 2012, much like every other government program, it had grown exponentially and totaled $2.19 billion.

In light of the video, this program received increased scrutiny, and now Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas has introduced a bill to eliminate the program in 2012.  He decried the waste and abuse inherent in the program:

“’This program is rife with waste and abuse,’ Griffin said. ‘It’s set up in a way where people can receive multiple phones for free.’ Griffin said he has seen cases in which single individuals obtained dozens of the phones, and said under the lax requirements, more than 80 million Americans are eligible.”

While there is incredible waste and abuse in the program, the program is also a lucrative scheme for a top Obama donor.

One of the largest beneficiaries of the program is Tracfone with 3.8 million subscribers as a result of the Lifeline program as of 2011.  The owner of Tracfone is Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man-valued at $70 billion.  The CEO of TracFone is Frederick Pollack, a top Obama contributor:

“Pollak has donated at least $156,500 to Democratic candidates and committees this cycle, including at least $50,000 to the Obama campaign. His wife, Abigail, is a campaign bundler for Obama and has raised more than $632,000 for the president this cycle, and more than $1.5 million since 2007. She has personally contributed more than $200,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2008.

“The Pollaks hosted Obama at their Miami Beach home in June for a $40,000-per-plate fundraising dinner, and hosted a similar event with Michelle Obama in July 2008. The couple personally donated a combined $66,200 to Obama’s re-election effort that year.”

It would seem that by drastically increasing the spending on the program over his first term, President Obama is helping the rich get richer and rewarding a top contributor.

Recently Sen. David Vitter also took up the fight to end the program, and those with a financial interest retaliated.  In March, Vitter first introduced his legislation as an amendment to the Senate budget resolution. The amendment failed 46-to-53.  Vitter also introduced the legislation as an amendment to the Farm Bill recently, but a vote was blocked by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In response, those with a financial interest vilified him.  TracFone, the largest beneficiary of the free cell phones, receiving more than $1.5 billion and $440 million in 2012 from the free cell phone program, recently ran attack ads against Vitter due to his efforts to eliminate the fraudulent program.  A TracFone subsidiary, SafeLink Wireless, was sending text messages to cell phone recipients that read: “Save Lifeline! Call Sen. Landrieu at 202-224-3121. Due to Sen. Vitter program is in jeopardy.”

A recent undercover video by James O’Keefe reveals the depth of the corruption in the program.  When an undercover actor told the provider that he was going to turn around a sell the phone to get money for his heroin addiction, the phone provider barely batted an eyelash and proceeded to give him the phone.

This video has redoubled Sen. Vitter’s resolve to eliminate the subsidy for mobile phones and return the program to its original goal of providing land lines to those who are truly in need.

The Lifeline Program is yet another example of a bloated government program.  At a time when it seems every federal agency is politicized, one has to wonder if the growth in this program is due to a desire to help those who have raised money for Obama.  President Obama has worked hard to help the unions after they helped his election efforts, why wouldn’t the same be happening for other donors?  It’s time for this program to be eliminated and further scrutiny placed on other government spending.

Willie Deutsch is Editor-in-Chief for NetRightDaily.com, and Social Media Director for Americans for Limited Government.  You can follow Willie on twitter

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