Defenders of consumer rights and critics of a telecommunications company that would provide cable and internet service to more than a third of the U.S. market say Comcast's hope to merge with Time Warner would be an "unthinkable" disaster, but in Washington, DC the money and lobbying game favors the deep-pocketed corporation and Comcast knows the field well.
“This is the era we live in — of big money.... [The cable giants] leave no stone unturned when they get into one of these efforts."
—Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner
As the New York Times reports Friday, the company has spent the last several years—especially surrounding its recent purchase of NBC—currying favor with a large but diverse group of voting blocks and influential policymakers in Washington, DC and across the country. Both by registering armies of lobbyists and by using its philanthropic arm to win the backing of non-profit and special interest groups, the company is well-armed to move its contentious business strategy.
According to the Times:
The merger with NBC offers a case study of how central a role this network of nonprofit groups can play when the company is seeking regulatory actions by the government, particularly the F.C.C., which weighs a commitment to local communities and diversity when making its decision.
The F.C.C. case file on the merger with NBC includes at least 54 groups that Comcast has donated money to — including small entities like the Centro de la Familia de Utah and the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel — that wrote letters to the agency in 2010 urging it to approve the transaction, or signed an agreement with Comcast endorsing it, according to a review of the file by The Center for Public Integrity and The New York Times.
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These groups received at least $8.6 million from the Comcast Foundation over nearly a decade through 2012, not including other donations from the corporation directly, the analysis found.
The correlation between giving and support for its deals extends to Congress: 91 of the 97 members of Congress who signed a letter in 2011 supporting the Comcast NBC merger received contributions during that same election cycle from the company’s political action committee or executives.
Though Comcast vehemently denies that its charitable support for various groups is done in exchange for political favors, few think that passes the laugh (or smell) test. Even one lobbyist on the Comcast payroll admitted to the Times that these groups are quite clearly "pawns" being manipulated by the cable giant which has two primary, inter-related goals: expanding its market share and making money.
“If you have a company like Comcast that has been with them for a long time and continues to support them, they will go to bat for them,” the lobbyist told the newspaper, though he asked not to be named.
And as former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who knows from the inside what corporate pressure looks on deals like this, commented: “This is the era we live in — of big money.... [The cable giants] leave no stone unturned when they get into one of these efforts."
Meanwhile, consumer advocates and media watchdog groups like Free Press have continued their campaign to block the merger by garnering signatures for a national petition and lobbying the FCC to frown on the deal.