Every big company tries to snag former Washington insiders for its lobbying team; the revolving door, after all, is what makes public service a stepping stone to personal wealth in the modern age.
But the cable giant Comcast has been especially aggressive in vacuuming up former congressional aides and Federal Communications Commission staff members -- even a former FCC commissioner -- as company lobbyists.
Many of them are now fully engaged on the company’s biggest venture: its $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable. The deal would widen Comcast’s lead as the nation’s biggest cable and Internet provider, but requires the approval of the FCC and the Justice Department’s antitrust division and may face questions in Congress.
So, let slip the dogs of war. The sheer scale of Comcast’s lobbying effort, which includes lavish campaign contributions to members of Congress, hints at the obstacles that opponents of the merger will face in persuading lawmakers and regulators of the damage this deal will do to the public interest. (A fact sheet from Consumers Union is here.)
The Public Accountability Initiative’s LittleSis website lists 28 former congressional and White House staffers working Comcast’s side of the street on the merger deal.
They form a subset of the 76 Comcast and Time Warner Cable lobbyists identified by Time magazine’s Alec Rogers as having ties with congressional committees, current and former members of Congress and minority organizations expected to voice an opinion on the merger.
Meanwhile, the OpenSecrets blog of the Center for Responsive Politics revisits the revolving door between Comcast and the FCC. The outstanding scandal of this relationship was the resignation of FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker in May 2011 to take a lobbying job at Comcast -- a mere four months after she voted to approve Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. We reported on the ethical aspects of Baker’s move at the time. Short version: There was nothing ethical about it.
OpenSecrets counts 18 people who “have both lobbied for Comcast and spent time in the public sector. Of those, 12 are currently registered lobbyists for Comcast, with five of them having spent time at the FCC.” Its list doesn’t even include current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was president and chief executive of the National Cable Television Assn. from 1976 to 1984, and president and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Assn. from 1992 to 2004. His lobbyist roots, in other words, run deep.
LittleSis (the name is a take-off on “Big Brother”) earlier disclosed the role played by Robert Schumer, the brother of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in the merger deal: Robert Schumer is Time Warner Cable’s lead outside attorney on the matter. The disclosure led to Sen. Schumer’s announcement that he will recuse himself from any congressional consideration of the deal.
Few other members of Congress will be so abashed. The interconnections of money and personnel between the cable merger partners on one side and lawmakers and regulators on the other should make the latter feel ashamed. They won’t feel ashamed, which is more shameful still. But because the merger would help an even larger Comcast get its way with greater impunity, that’s one more reason to reject it.