May 30, 2014

Comcast and Time Warner Cable Honor Key Politicians

By CREW Staff

ComcastThe proposed merger between Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, Inc., the country’s two largest cable providers, is under heavy scrutiny from regulators and members of Congress who fear it will lead to decreased competition and higher prices for consumers.  The Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law have already held hearings to scrutinize how the proposed merger would affect individual consumers.  The merger will ultimately need approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Comcast has experience getting mergers approved: the company is following the playbook it crafted during its successful effort to purchase NBC Universal in 2011.  That playbook includes lobbying efforts, campaign contributions, and winning support from third-party groups, especially those representing minorities.

In the past, Comcast has also used honorary contributions to lawmakers’ favored charities to curry favor and gain influence in a way that typically draws less attention.  In 2010, for instance, the company promised an increased commitment to diversity-related issues and won support from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).  Then, in December 2011, Comcast made a $50,000 contribution to the Beloved Community Foundation Family Services in honor of Rep. Rush, the organization’s founder.  The timing raised questions, though a Comcast spokeswoman said the donation was not a quid pro quo.

CREW reviewed honorary contributions made by Comcast and Time Warner Cable between 2011 and 2013, the most recent available.  They show Comcast has spent heavily to honor the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), members of which could offer key support for the merger.  Comcast has contributed $519,286 in honor of the CBC since 2011 and $428,820.25 in honor of the CHC and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute since 2011.  During the same period, Comcast contributed $225,000 to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies in honor of two of its board members, Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Mike Honda (D-CA).  Rep. Chu is the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and the Internet.  She was supportive of the Comcast/NBC Universal Merger approval in 2011.

CREW also found Comcast has regularly contributed to the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, which was founded by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).  He is the institute’s honorary chairman.  The company’s reports show it gave $75,000 between 2011 and 2013.  Sen. Rockefeller has been the chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees the FCC, since 2009.  In February 2013, shortly after the proposed merger was announced, Sen. Rockefeller released a statement saying it “raises serious questions that deserve thorough scrutiny.  Of course, the threshold question must be whether the creation of an even larger video and broadband juggernaut results in greater choice and lower rates for consumers.  This has not been my experience with previous mergers of this size.  And at a time when the future of video is increasingly online, policymakers have to weigh very carefully the ability of big companies to leverage their control of the Internet to shape how Americans access and receive content and to limit new consumer-centric video services.”

Time Warner Cable makes fewer honorary contributions than Comcast.  CREW’s review, however, found the company has contributed $100,000 in honor of the CHC since 2011 and has also honored officials who could be key to the merger’s prospects.

In August 2013, Time Warner Cable contributed $15,000 to the National Consumers League to honor FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, then the agency’s acting chairwoman, and Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rockefeller.  Commissioner Clyburn is the only current FCC commissioner who voted on the Comcast/NBC Universal merger, and she voted in favor.  Time Warner Cable also contributed $10,000 to the James E. Clyburn Research & Scholarship Foundation in honor of her father, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC).  Time Warner Cable has contributed $10,000 to the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in honor of Sen. Rockefeller since 2011.

In addition, in July 2013 Time Warner Cable contributed $25,000 to Public Knowledge, which has opposed the merger, in honor of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).  Rep. Eshoo is the representative for the Silicon Valley area and the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which has responsibility for legislation in the House regarding technology, the Internet, and telecommunications.  CREW was unable to find any statements by Rep. Eshoo regarding the proposed merger.

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