The ACLU, Qualcomm, and cash

Qualcomm executives’ interest in immigration issues may be connected with their desire to hire educated, but lower paid, foreign workers.
  • Qualcomm executives’ interest in immigration issues may be connected with their desire to hire educated, but lower paid, foreign workers.

San Diego’s Qualcomm, Inc., the cell phone giant, made a big splash a few weeks ago when company executive Nathan Fletcher — the former GOP Assemblyman turned independent who lost his bid for mayor last year ­— announced he would be chairman of a new advocacy group calling itself San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform. In addition to Fletcher, members include Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs and his son Paul, the firm’s chairman and CEO. Among other local notables along for the ride, according to the group’s website, are Sheriff Bill Gore; District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis; real estate mogul Malin Burnham; San Diego police chief Bill Lansdowne; and Norma Chavez Peterson, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

“We should invest in infrastructure at ports of entry to promote both security and commerce, allowing authorities to manage lawful travel and commerce and better detect unlawful activity,” says a statement of principles posted on the website. In addition, Fletcher adds in a letter, “We should build a common sense, streamlined immigration process that upholds the values we share — hard work, taking care of families, and looking out for each other.”

Though the website doesn’t mention it, Qualcomm and its executives have long had a special interest in changing immigration policy, in particular a desire to boost the issuance of so-called H-1B visas. Those controversial documents admit high-tech and other well-educated but lower-paid specialty workers to the United States by employer application. According to the website MyVisaJobs.com, last year Qualcomm was ranked 14 among all H-1B visa sponsors.

Back in September 2009, a U-T San Diego editorial reported: “In a recent meeting with the Union-Tribune editorial board, [Paul] Jacobs suggested that, aside from raising the cap on H-1B visas, the U.S. government ­— as an additional enticement to get highly skilled foreigners to stay — could also speed up the process for some these individuals to become U.S. citizens. It’s a great idea. Local members of Congress should take it up.”

Skeptics say the H-1B citizenship gambit is just a way for Qualcomm to recruit liberal converts to its agenda. In addition, Irwin Jacobs has long provided financial support for Democratic and liberal causes, giving more than $2 million to re-election efforts on behalf of president Barack Obama. The elder Jacobs and his wife Joan also gave a hefty $90,000 to the ACLU’s favored anti-death penalty proposition that went down to defeat in California last November.

In addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions made by Qualcomm and its executives to federal, state, and local candidates over the years, the company maintains a robust Washington lobbying operation, overseen by William Bold, senior vice president for government affairs, who, along with his wife Rochelle, once worked for Democratic congresswoman Lynn Schenk.

The corporation has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on contract lobbyists plying the Washington influence trade. Well-heeled retainers included Covington & Burling, which last year was paid $270,000 to lobby on “patent reform” among other matters. DLA Piper got $50,000 to influence congress and federal agencies regarding various technology issues dear to Qualcomm’s heart. The Lugar Hellmann Group received $30,000 to lobby about taxes. Quinn Gillespie & Associates was paid $120,000 regarding the “Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act” and “general spectrum issues.” Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck got $80,000 for unspecified services.

Qualcomm reported spending a grand total of $1,660,000 for lobbying in 2012. In addition to other legislation on a lengthy list of tech industry likes, the company lobbied hard for four H-1B–related bills in the House and one in the Senate. They included: “Immigration of highly skilled workers”; “Attracting the Best and Brightest Act — Immigration of highly skilled workers”; “Fairness of High Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011 — Immigration of highly skilled workers”; and the “STEM Jobs Act of 2012 — Immigration of highly skilled workers.”

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Why does this arrangement feel like the deceptive deal that Qualcomm got free of charge from the Jacobs' favorite amiable Mayor (Sanders) back in early 2012?

Then, the name of Qualcomm Stadium was presto-changoed to "Snapdragon Stadium" for ten days and three Charger football games -- no permissions sought and no fees assessed for promoting a particular Qualcomm product in the most public way. It turns out the Snapdragon caper was illegal. I don't know if the City ever got the rent it was due.

In this instance, Qualcomm's Jacobses are again flogging their special interest in disguise: round up the backing of the (very grateful) ACLU and a bunch of other (mainly GOP) figureheads and look like you're pushing for widely-desired social change in the form of "commonsense immigration reform." It's sleazy. And it's shocking that the ACLU with its Latina spokesperson participates in the charade.

I suppose when a city sells its soul, in the form of the name of its major public sports stadium, then there can be no complaint when the buyer plays around with his new toy. Besides, what's in a name? San Diego Stadium would smell as sweet, and be equally functional, if called Jack Murphy, Qualcom, Snapdragon or The Magnificent Heavenly Irwin Bowl.

The ACLU would toot a different tune if those H1B visas covered lawyers. The USA needs affordable legal services, and there are thousands of Indian lawyers yearning for their rightful places in La Jolla or Rancho San Diego.

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