Over the past two weeks, American taxpayers have become aware of the “Obama Phone,” a program to provide welfare recipients with free cell phones. Public outrage grew after a rather colorful video went viral, in which one of Obama’s core supporters threw out the term “Obama Phone” during an angry tirade at a rally for Mitt Romney.
President Obama actually had nothing to do with implementing this program. It’s a 2008 mutation of a decades-old program to provide welfare recipients with land-line telephones, on the grounds that such equipment is important for securing employment and dealing with medical emergencies. The program is a result of FCC mandates, not presidential intervention. However, the term “Obama Phone” has evidently settled in with both beneficiaries of the program, and its critics.
While it’s true that President Obama didn’t launch the cell phone expansion of the Lifeline program, his policies have greatly increased the number of participants, since everyone in Food Stamp Nation qualifies for a free phone. The cost of the program has more than doubled, to $1.6 billion, since the cell phone benefit was added in 2008. It’s absolutely riddled with fraud and abuse, including individual recipients who scored multiple free telephones from the government. And it turns out that one of the biggest companies providing these welfare phones, TracFone Wireless, is run by big Obama donors.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that TracFone Wireless CEO F.J. Pollak “has donated at least $156,500 to Democratic candidates and committees this cycle, including at least $50,000 to the Obama campaign,” while his wife Abigail has bundled over $632,000 in Obama donations during this campaign cycle. They hosted a $40,000-per-plate fundraiser for Obama in Miami Beach this year, and they’ve made seven White House Visits. Abigail received an appointment to the presidential “Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino.”
And TracFone is affiliated with company called America Movil, which is owned by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. So a huge amount of money is being extracted from paying cell phone customers through a surcharge on their monthly phone bills, and paid to a company run by a top Obama donor and affiliated with the richest man on the planet, so welfare dependents can have “free” cell phones. Some of those dependents love their free phones so much that they run out and get ten or twenty of them.
Not only is TracFone getting big bucks from the government to provide these cell phones, but they have an opportunity to sell additional minutes to users who exceed the fairly modest allowance of “free” taxpayer-subsidized talk and data time. (Yes, data time. Some of these “free” phones are smartphones.)
“TracFone and other wireless providers claim that revenue from selling additional minutes to Lifeline customers is low, but decline to publicly release such figures,” the Free Beacon reports. Why should they be allowed to withhold this information from taxpayers? We have a right to know exactly how much they’re raking in from selling extra service on the phones we paid for, don’t we?
This is exactly the kind of arrangement that people who whine about “special interest politics” have in mind: a huge company making political donations to ensure that its taxpayer-fueled government gravy train keeps rolling into the station on time. Every Big Government program is a swamp in which corruption can fester, but too many Americans convince themselves to ignore the unpleasant truth, when they feel sympathy for the benevolent nominal objectives of the program. Somehow this particular program went from the debatable imperative to put telephones in the homes of the poor, to the utterly outrageous and easily abused dispensation of “free” cell phones to welfare recipients, with big money to be made by those with the political clout to cash in.
And anyone who tries to put the brakes on that gravy train will have 7 million “Obama Phone” holders lined up to vote against him. They’ll care about losing their “free” phones a lot more than most paying cell phone customers care about that little “Universal Service Charge” fee on the detailed bills they never bother to read. But God help any candidate who offers a frank discussion of that electoral reality!