Will $1.2 billion in tax-bill spending win AT&T approval for its Time Warner deal?

“Pretty good,” Trump said.
“Pretty good,” Trump said.
Image: Reuters
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Republicans passed their first major piece of legislation under president Donald Trump today (Dec. 20), a tax bill that slashes corporate tax rates and favors the wealthy.

In honor of the occasion, AT&T said it would spend $1.2 billion on US investments and one-time bonuses to employees. AT&T is giving 200,000 employees who are “union-represented, non-management and front-line managers,” each a bonus of $1,000, and investing “an additional $1 billion in the United States in 2018,” the company said.

The telecom giant’s plans were highlighted by Trump during an event at the White House to celebrate the bill this afternoon, about 45 minutes after the company made them public. “Pretty good,” Trump said of AT&T’s plans, high praise for a company that hasn’t been in the Trump administration’s good graces in recent weeks.

The Department of Justice is suing to block the company’s $108-billion merger with Time Warner, citing anti-trust concerns. However the fundamental objection from the White House is widely believed to be Time Warner subsidiary CNN’s critical coverage of Trump.

Trump likes to publicly link his presidency with new investments and jobs in the US. When he first took office, he even took credit for deals and investments that had been announced long before he took office—and companies eager to win his favor didn’t correct him.

It’s highly unusual for a company with a deal under DOJ review to link a huge spend directly to a US president’s policies and then let him announce it during a White House press conference. Still, AT&T’s move is indicative of how companies have adapted their behavior under Trump, Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer under president George W. Bush and vice-chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told Quartz.

Trump plays favorites with different companies, Painter said, so “to curry favor with him” AT&T is giving him a political gift. “It’s political grandstanding,” he said, but at least AT&T is doing the right thing by giving some of the tax bill’s benefit to their employees.

Trump’s message at the White House should have been “other companies ought to do the same thing,” Painter said.

AT&T said there was no link between the $1.2 billion investment and the DOJ review. “Our announcement today is unrelated to our pending acquisition of Time Warner,” a AT&T spokesman told Quartz.