Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable (TWC) are spending tens of thousands of dollars to honor a federal regulator who will rule on their proposed merger.
In May, a little more than a month after the two companies requested Federal Communications Commission (FCC) review of the deal, TWC made a $22,000 contribution to a nonprofit group in honor of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. The company reported making the contribution to the Walter Kaitz Foundation, an industry group that seeks to advance the contributions of women and multi-ethnic professionals in cable.
The contribution is likely tied to the 31st Annual Walter Kaitz Foundation Fundraising Dinner scheduled for September 17, 2014, at which Commissioner Clyburn will be honored. TWC is listed as a “benefactor” on the event’s supporters’ page and the cost of a “benefactor” level table package at the dinner is $22,000. Comcast, meanwhile, is listed on the foundation’s web site as a “presenting sponsor” for the dinner, which costs $110,000.
Companies that lobby are legally required to disclose a range of contributions in honor of government officials, including payments for an event to honor or recognize them, in reports filed twice a year with the House and the Senate. TWC reported the contribution in honor of Commissioner Clyburn on its report for the first half of 2014. Unlike TWC, Comcast did not report any contributions honoring Commissioner Clyburn in its most recent lobbying contributions report, though if its $110,000 disbursement was made after the deadline for that filing, it should appear in the company’s report for the second half of 2014, required to be filed early next year. As a presenting sponsor, Comcast will be prominently recognized with marquee recognition, premier seating for 40 guests, and inclusion in a wide variety of ads and “E-News Blasts.”
TWC and Comcast’s contributions in honor of Commissioner Clyburn were made at a time when the two companies are aggressively working the levers of power to get their merger approved. As CREW has noted, using honorary contributions to lawmakers and regulators’ favored charities to curry favor is one of the more under the radar moves in Comcast’s merger playbook—a playbook that also emphasizes lobbying, campaign contributions, and winning support from third-party groups, especially those representing minorities.
Regulators must approve the deal, and Congress has been scrutinizing it. Several lawmakers have voiced reservations in hearings about the merger’s potential impact, and this month, more than 50 House members sent Comcast and TWC a letter saying they should commit to carrying independent Latino-focused channels as a condition of the merger. In May, CREW found that between 2011 and 2013, Comcast had spent heavily to honor the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), whose members could be important supporters of the merger. Comcast also gave big to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), honoring, among others, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and the Internet and supported the Comcast/NBC Universal Merger approval in 2011. TWC made fewer honorary contributions than Comcast during the same period, but also contributed $100,000 in honor of the CHC.
A review of the two companies’ 2014 mid-year lobbying contribution reports reveals money is still flowing to these key groups, and there has been a significant uptick in giving to the CHC. In the first six months of 2014, Comcast contributed $273,454 in honor of the CHC, more than the company contributed in any individual year between 2011 and 2013. Comcast also reported giving $125,000 in honor of the CBC and $50,000 to the APAICS in honor of Rep. Chu and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA).
TWC increased its giving to other Latino advocacy groups as well. On February 18, 2014, the company contributed $25,000 to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in honor of several members of Congress and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, an increase from its $20,000 contribution to LULAC in 2013. In addition, on March 5, 2014, Time Warner Cable contributed $25,000 to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in honor of the “Gang of Eight” senators who passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2013. TWC previously contributed a total of $45,000 between 2011 and 2012 to NCLR.
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