Courtesy of The Los Angeles Times
Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim is punching back at an advocacy group that’s been criticizing him across the country and on the steps of the California Capitol building.
Slim’s Miami-based subsidiary, TracFone Wireless Inc., on Monday filed a complaint with California’s political watchdog agency against an organization called Two Countries One Voice. The group has been protesting and pressing for legislation that could slow the expansion of TracFone’s pre-paid cellphone network in the United States.
The accusation was filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates lobbying professionals. The commission declined to comment.
“The apparent goal of these protests and a related media and lobbying campaign is to generate adverse legislation and/or negatively influence regulatory decisions affecting TracFone, SimpleMobile and America Movil, which operate in an industry subject to extensive oversight by the state of California and local California political bodies,” the complaint said.
America Movil is Slim’s Mexican parent company.
TracFone’s complaint is baseless and an attempt to stifle organizing with immigrant communities, which have been harmed by the high cost of telephone service in Mexico, said Juan Jose Gutierrez, Two Countries’ co-director.
“I never lobbied anyone,” he said.
Two Countries describes itself as a binational group that works “to educate the public about who Carlos Slim is, and, specifically, to tell them about what we perceive to be his monopolistic and predatory business practices as we see them develop over time in Mexico and throughout Latin America.”
Slim, said Gutierrez, “has made his money time and time again at the expense of the well being of the Mexican economy.”
Earlier in the year, Gutierrez and his allies, including a handful of state legislators, held a protest outside the Capitol in favor of a bill that would give the Public Utilities Commission more power to review proposed telecommunications mergers. The bill, however, never was introduced.
TracFone currently is embroiled in an administrative-legal dispute with the PUC over about $20 million in unpaid telephone service fees that fund programs for low-income customers.
TracFone recently acquired Irvine company Simple Mobile and now has more than 21 million U.S. customers. It accuses Two Countries of violating California law by operating as an unregistered lobbyist or acting as a captive organization being funded by secret donors. The complaint alleges that Two Countries’ activities are guided by Mercury Public Affairs, whose Sacramento office engages in lobbying, public relations and political strategy.
Mercury spokesman Roger Salazar said his firm has done no lobbying for Two Countries.
TracFone spokesman Jose Fuentes said his company suspects that some of Slim’s Mexican competitors might be behind the Two Countries campaign in California.
“It’s more of a suspicion to see who is really behind all this,” he said. “People have a right to know who’s funding these types of shadow organizations as determined by California ethics laws,” he said.
Gutierrez denied the allegation that he was working with Slim’s competitors. “I don’t even know who his competitors are,” he said.