In 1965, Lloyd Meeds was a U.S. congressman from Washington State who hired Al Swift as his first administrative assistant. Swift worked for Meeds on and off for more tn five years; then in 1979, Meeds retired and Al Swift, a Democrat, was elected to Congress.
Now, Meeds and Swift are allied again, as part of an unusual lobbying campaign over the future of International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat).
Lloyd Meeds is now a lawyer for Preston Thorgrimson Ellis & Holman and has been retained by Intelsat, which was launched by the United States 20 years ago to provide international telex, telephone and TV service to the 109 nation members of the consortium.
Meeds' law firm is registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent on Intelsat's behalf. And Meeds has met with a number of congressmen, Swift among them, about the Reagan administration's decision a few months ago to break up Intelsat's 20-year monopoly over international satellite services by giving the Federal Communications Commission the go-ahead to authorize competition.
For two years, private satellite systems have tried to obtain authorization to compete with Intelsat in some areas. But Intelsat has opposed the efforts, arguing that such competition would jeopardize its financial condition, and has recruited a number of influential Washington lawyers to get its side of the story across on Capitol Hill.
In addition to Meeds, they include Stuart Eizenstat, White House chief of staff in the Carter administration; former Washington State congressman Joel Pritchard, now with the Bogle & Gates law firm, and others. Richard Wiley, former FCC chairman, and his colleague Bert Rein have prepared a study of the foreign policy implications of the issue for Intelsat.
Intelsat has been gaining support for its cause. The FCC has been receiving letters from congressmen asking to further delay the comment period, which already has been extended once to June of this year.
Others, such as Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), have expressed concern about the delay and are asking the FCC to move speedily.
Swift, a member of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee that deals with telecommunications, recently wrote to FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler asking the agency to "withhold any final action until the Congress has had a reasonable opportunity to provide any necessary legislative authority." The letter was signed by 13 other congressmen.
Swift said his interest was not triggered by Meeds. "There is no question about my association with Lloyd Meeds," Swift said. "My interest predates his having discussed this with me by some considerable time. . . . John Dingell D-Mich. and I both jumped up and down on this issue prior to Lloyd ever talking to me or being hired by Intelsat."
Eizenstat, now with Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy, has spoken with Rep. Bob Carr (D-Mich.), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and judiciary. "Stu Eizenstat is an old friend of mine," Carr said, "but dozens of others have talked to me from other points of view."
Capitol Hill sources say Carr has met with Intelsat representatives to discuss legislative strategies to prevent authorization of competitive systems. "Intelsat, through Bob Carr, may try to get a rider on the appropriations bill to make sure the FCC does not conclude its proceeding until fiscal year 1986," said a congressional staffer who asked not to be identified.
"All of these people who favor Intelsat have said, 'All we want is full consideration of the issue and a fair proceeding.' Those are code words for 'We want to kill it,' " the staffer said.
Another Hill source said: "Eizenstat gave us a whole presentation and said how terrible competition would be."
Unable to match Intelsat's resources, potential competitors have waged a campaign for media attention.
The crux of the issue is whether the United States should allow competition to Intelsat, which was created as a monopoly to serve its member nations and to extend a helping hand to developing countries as they groped to climb aboard the rapidly moving Information Age.
Would-be competitors to Intelsat say they can provide services for banks and broadcasters more cheaply than Intelsat can. They say that only a small portion of Intelsat's revenue would be deflected by competition, because smaller competitors would provide service to private companies and would not provide international telephone service to the public at large.
Intelsat has argued, however, that it may not be possible to tailor competition in this way; it argues that it could suffer significant economic harm if competition is introduced in the most desirable telecommunications traffic routes.
The result is that Intelsat is engaged in a powerful lobbying campaign, say officials of the State Department and the FCC, questioning whether an international organization should be lobbying at all. Potential competitors also complain that Intelsat and Comsat have spent millions of dollars on lobbying efforts that users of the system should not have to pay for.
"It's obviously a frenetic lobbying effort with big dollars involved," said one FCC commissioner who asked not to be identified. "They are saying competition is far too important to leave it to the marketplace, and they say it with a straight face."
"They are hiring everybody in town, and there is a move afoot on the House side to stop the agency," he said.
Other FCC officials report that Intelsat has received 40 letters from its member countries suggesting that competitors would be likely to skim highly desirable trans-Atlantic satellite traffic between New York and London, causing rates to rise for Third World countries.
No written law prohibits the international organization from lobbying. But one high-level State Department official expressed the concern of many others: "We would begin with the view that it is not proper for an international organization to lobby another [member] nation on the development of what we consider an internal policy."
"It is wrong to charge the ratepayer for the [lobbying] services," he added.
Intelsat denies that it is engaged in lobbying. "They are disseminating information and educating, not lobbying," said Richard Colino, the American director general of Intelsat. Colino that said member countries writing to the FCC have done so on their own, asking merely that they be kept informed of U.S. policy developments.
"Intelsat's policy has never been to lobby; we are not lobbying, nor have we authorized anyone to lobby," said Kim Degnan, executive assistant to Colino.
"After more than two years of uninterrupted lobbying by Orion Satellite Corp., International Satellite Inc. [both potential competitors] and even some government officials . . . we don't have anyone on this international staff competent to correct these distortions, so we had to hire people whose business it is," Degnan said.
The total cost of the effort has totaled about $300,000, she said.
The Pan American Satellite Corporation, a potential competitor to Intelsat that is interested in providing less expensive television transmission to parts of Latin America for SIN Television Network, its New York Spanish TV parent, charges that Intelsat had spent $1.8 million on lobbying by the end of 1984. PanAmsat further charges that the Communications Satellite Corp., Intelsat's U.S. signatory that holds a 23 percent share in the consortium, is passing on $431,277 in costs to its ratepayers. PanAmsat is demanding that the money be refunded.
"I don't think it is ethical for Intelsat to lobby," said Rene Anselmo, president of SIN Television Network and chairman of PanAmsat. "I think they are trying to delay [competitive systems] and get legislation introduced."
The delays may force some of the would-be competitors to abandon their goals, says International Satellite Inc. "No one believes Intelsat wants an issue study -- they simply want us to go away. They understand we don't have enormously deep pockets and may just self-destruct from lack of commitment or resources," said William Fishman, regulatory counsel to International Satellite.
Lawyers retained by Intelsat declined to discuss their view of Intelsat and the work they do. But one, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said Intelsat is in an unusual situation:
"Here is a proceeding that goes to the very heart of an organization. They are in an unusual position of not being able to actually participate in the FCC proceeding.
"When you have a binding agreement to which the U.S. is a party, it is a legitimate question about what is the best way to change it," he said.