US mobile operator Sprint hired a lobbying company with ties to US President Donald Trump as it moves to work out a merger deal with rival operator T-Mobile.
According to a public disclosure filed with the US Congress and first spotted by Reuters, Sprint hired Ballard Partners at the start of September to “advise and advocate for the client on general government policies and regulations.” The disclosure does not include information on how much Sprint is paying the company.
Ballard Partners is far from the only lobby company Sprint hired this year. The operator also works with companies including EFB Advocacy, Fierce Government Relations, Franklin Square Group, The Fritts Group, The Cormac Group and The Raben Group. However, the addition of Ballard Partners is significant due to founder and president Brian Ballard’s ties to Trump.
Why it matters
The Ballard Partners website notes Brian Ballard was an “integral player” in Trump’s Florida campaign, serving as chairman of Trump Victory and head of the campaign’s finance efforts in the state. As a member of the Electoral College, Ballard also cast his vote for Trump. Ballard was subsequently chosen to serve as a member of the Presidential Transition Finance Committee.
The hire of Ballard’s company comes in the context of Sprint’s efforts to secure a merger deal with rival operator T-Mobile. After a brief hiatus while Sprint explored other options, the pair reportedly resumed “active talks” this month. Reports last week indicated Sprint and T-Mobile are finally closing in on a deal, and Bloomberg indicated Sprint parent company SoftBank is willing to accept a stock-for-stock merger at, or near, Sprint’s current market price. CNBC reported the pair are entering the due diligence stage of negotiations and are hoping to finalise an agreement by the third week of October.
Any deal between the two would have to pass regulatory scrutiny from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), which is currently manned by Trump appointees (though Trump’s antitrust nominee Makan Delrahim is yet to be confirmed). In 2011 the DoJ, under former President Barack Obama, derailed an attempted merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. Trump in the past attacked AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, but is yet to comment on a potential Sprint and T-Mobile tie-up.
The merger deal would also have to get a nod from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which would be charged with determining whether such a merger would be in the public interest. A telltale sign on which way the FCC might lean could come in the form of the commission’s wireless competition report, set to be voted on later this week.
Under former chairman Tom Wheeler, the commission determined the US wireless market was not competitive despite the presence of four major carriers. The decision could change under current chairman Ajit Pai and, it if does, could be a favourable sign for a potential Sprint-T-Mobile merger.