What Corruption Looks Like: 87% Of Congressional Reps Supporting Comcast/NBC Merger Got Money From Comcast

from the how-government-work-gets-done dept

Let me start out by pointing out that I’m on the record thinking that people are severely overreacting to the Comcast/NBC merger. I think that it’s likely to be a bad business decision, but I see no reason why the government should block it. If anything, it seems like it’ll just be a modern updating of the AOL/Time Warner catastrophe, as management won’t really know what to do and will just make things worse off. That said, the companies have been fighting hard against opposition to the merger, and one way to fight is with money. So it comes as little surprise to find out that 84 of the 97 Congressional Reps, who signed a letter urging that the FCC approve the merger without conditions, received campaign contributions from Comcast.

Now, this is not to say that those 84 are corrupt. But, as Larry Lessig has pointed out, whether or not there is actual corruption here obscures the point that it certainly looks corrupt, and certainly decreases citizens’ willingness to trust that their government is acting in the interests of the people they’re supposed to represent.

If anything, this brings more support to the idea that if our elected officials are going to accept large donations from companies and then legislate in their interests, it would make sense to require those elected officials to wear patches indicating who’s funding them, a la Nascar uniforms.

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Companies: comcast, nbc universal

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Comments on “What Corruption Looks Like: 87% Of Congressional Reps Supporting Comcast/NBC Merger Got Money From Comcast”

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105 Comments
The eejit (profile) says:

Genius idea!

If anything, this brings more support to the idea that if our elected officials are going to accept large donations from companies and then legislate in their interestes, that it makes sense to require those elected officials to wear patches indicating who’s funding them ? la Nascar uniforms.

I’d love to see that happen. For a start it’d make John Stewart happy.

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:

Re: Genius idea!

I bet Jon Stewart would love it too.

But more to the point, do these $1,000 to $25,000 token amounts really count as “being sponsored by”. I have to imagine there’s more significant influences than that on our Congressional Representatives. Or do we just assume that those reported dollars are indicators of larger arrangements/kickbacks/campaign drives or whatever?

Or is it true I really could buy a congressman’s signature for a thousand bucks? If so I think I’ve got a few letters I’d be willing to write up to have them sign …

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Now, this is not to say that those 84 are corrupt. But, as Larry Lessig has pointed out, whether or not there is actual corruption here obscures the point that it certainly looks corrupt,…”

Hmmm, to me this sounds like Mike wrote the same thing.

Unless we were playing throw out the TD buzz phrases of the week, in which case I think there must be more to this story.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You leave it sitting there like they are corrupt, and then try to disclaim your way out.

Had you considering the simple concept that comcast tends to donate to people who support the same things they do? Example, if the 84 happen to be pro-business, anti-govenrment Republicans, perhaps they would have issued the same sort of statement anyway. Perhaps they are from districts where Comcast operates and they see more jobs in the future for their electors.

You see, you don’t know. You are taking one aspect and attempting to arrive at a conclusion by ignoring other possilbities. Then you write a title that leaves no margin: this is what corruption looks like.

Further, what about the other 3? Are they just stupid? Did they fail “bribe taking” class? Are they so stupid as to support anything without getting paid?

I think the entire post is rather dishonest and misleading, and that was your intention from the get go.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“You leave it sitting there like they are corrupt, and then try to disclaim your way out.” -AC

“Now, this is not to say that those 84 are corrupt.” – Mike

no, he disclaimed himself first, then proceeded to agree with someone else who stated “whether or not there is actual corruption here obscures the point that it certainly looks corrupt, and certainly decreases citizens’ willingness to trust that their government is acting in the interests of the people they’re supposed to represent. “

Sorry if you read more implication into it. I sure didn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Big headline:

What Corruption Looks Like: 87% Of Congressional Reps Supporting Comcast/NBC Merger Got Money From Comcast

little disclaimer in second paragraph: “Now, this is not to say that those 84 are corrupt.”. Even that is followed with the word “But…”

The headline says X, the disclaimer attempts to negate it. By then it is really too late, the impressive is given.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Yes, we read the stories. But the idea that TD uses is to use the title to push things way past reality, and then use the body of the text to ever so slightly pull back. It means however that the discussion starts from that “past reality” location, and works back from there, leaving casual readers with the impression that is just not true.

It’s a neat tactic, people who are just title surfing down the page are likely to get heavily misinformed. What is really funny is that I realize that TD (and to a less extent Lessig) are using this sort of thing to create FUD, because it benefits them. You only have to read some of the defensive comments on posts like this to realize that some people have bought it hook line and sinker.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“It’s a neat tactic, people who are just title surfing down the page are likely to get heavily misinformed. What is really funny is that I realize that TD (and to a less extent Lessig) are using this sort of thing to create FUD, because it benefits them. You only have to read some of the defensive comments on posts like this to realize that some people have bought it hook line and sinker.”

Then again, they could think it’s some sort of conspiracy to fool us (even though it didn’t).

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“And since the story talks about how this whole thing –looks– like corruption as a description of the perception created by the data, I don’t really see how the headline is all that misleading”

I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that even though they’ve read the whole post, they still haven’t twigged as to what the title actually means. When I originally read it I took it to be a statement suggesting that there is evidence of corruption. Obviously, reading the article, I now know that it is meant to literally mean ‘what corruption looks like (even if it isn’t really)’. Of course, had they given Mike the benefit of the doubt then they might have noticed the real meaning of the title after reading the post.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I would rather average joe did not stop posting. For those who have opposing view points to those usually in the original blogs, he is one of the far nicer guys to come around these parts of the internet.
While we may not always agree, the debate is welcome and he has pointed out some things worth reading. I welcome friendly debate. Its the TAMs and angry dudes who I wouldn’t mind going without.

On his original post, I would not consider this blog FUD as it is a fact I did not know until it was posted. I am so used to elected officials not representing the people (Democrats and Republicans both) that I automatically assume they are getting paid for their votes when I see news such as this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s FUD because the reality is that you are dealing with a comparatively small number of members of the house who didn’t get some contribution from Comcast, and it is within the realm of possiblity (and statistically very possible) that a subset happens to be slightly higher than the average for the whole group.

By ignoring or failing to disclose that a significant number of members (about 75%) accepted contributions from Comcast in the year, the post attempts to make the 87% look outrageous. With the full facts on the table, it looks more like a non-issue, unless you want to deny all companies and anyone who works for a company the right to donate to political campaigns.

It is classical trying to create something where nothing exists.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Your entire argument hinges around the ability to prove corruption… which is not the point of the article. The whole thing was to show how these actions lead to a reduced faith in our government… that’s all.

If you, AJ, and anyone else keep saying it’s FUD because there’s accusations of corruption going on, then it’s your doing. No one else here is saying “hey look! proof of corruption!”

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually… considering the context of the article, there is causation here.

What was caused is the increased perception of corruption. That was caused by the data showing who got money and who voted which way.

Mike was right… you missed the second half. Or ignored it. But hey, you get to drop your favorite meme, so all’s good.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations,[1][2] politics and propaganda. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative and dubious/false information designed to undermine the credibility of their beliefs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear,_uncertainty_and_doubt

So what part of the information given by Mike was dubious/false? Is giving factual information also FUD? If so, how is the weather forecast not FUD they say it’s going to rain… that’s undermining the credibility of my belief that the weather’s nice today.

I’m not sure why FUD seems to be such an issue with you, but not everything is FUD… it’s not out to get you, you know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What about the rest?

I think Lessig’s point is that the public doesn’t need the other half of the story to conclude that 87% is too high.

If you are arguing that the appearance of impropriety does not necessarily mean impropriety is happening, then you don’t understand the threat.

The problem is not (necessarily) that democracy is at risk. It is that democracy’s credibility is at risk.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Dirty...

I think America has tried that a few times with the people in there. We need something new and different, like no Republicans or Democrats. The problem is everybody likes to vote for one of these parties either because they favor them or disfavor the other more.
Actually, lots of people I know are at the point of voting for one party just because they dislike the other more. However, I would not say this is representative of the whole populace without a proper survey.

PABoese (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dirty...

I’d like to see the emergence of a third party led by someone like Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich, who see corruption for what it is and know we can do better. But as long as we are ruled by corporate money, I don’t think anything this helpful will be able to happen. Campaign finance reform is a must. Is anybody else talking about it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dirty...

Won’t make one bit of difference. The machine itself is broken; the corporations broke it and they have the ALL THE TOOLS. Changing out one operator for another without the tools to fix the broken machine will accompish nothing. You can thank your politicized Supreme Court for granting corporations the ability to buy our government and write it off as a business expense.

Please, please do not be fooled: For any level above, say, your local park board or school board, you have NO VOICE WHATSOEVER in this “democratic republic”. None, zilch, nada, you may as well be Marcel Marceau on the phone.

It won’t be long now before everything completely implodes here. Wife and I are saving pennies like crazy to pack up and move to NZ or Australia or Costa Rica or somewhere sane. 🙁

DCX2 says:

Questions

What were the min, max, mean, and standard deviation of the campaign contributions for those who voted in favor of the merger?

Also, what are the min, max, mean, and stdev of all of Comcast’s campaign contributions?

87% of reps who voted received contributions from Comcast. What % of all reps receive campaign contributions from Comcast?

Hephaestus (profile) says:

“I think that it’s likely to be a bad business decision, but I see no reason why the government should block it. If anything, it seems like it’ll just be a modern updating of the AOL/Time Warner catastrophe.”

Although I agree with you that it is a huge mistake for Comcast to purchase NBCU. It is for a different reason. GE is selling NBCU because it sees the trends, and knows that over the next 5-10 years, the networks will go the way of the record album. TV shows will become “singles” making the NBC, ABC, CBS brands far less valuable.

Add to that several trends converging in 5 years, cord cutting, ever increasing fees for cable, pay by byte for broadband, consumer dissatisfaction and discontent, internet access being required for daily life, and you have them ending up with broadband reclassified under Title II.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Statistics are your friend

There are 435 members of the US House of Representatives. Of those, Comcast gave money to 195 Democrats and 135 Republicans. Therefore, 76% of members received money from Comcast. So the fact that 87% of members who signed the letter received money is not that interesting. If you just chose 97 members at random to sign the letter, you’d likely get 74 who received money.

Further than that, what explains the 13 who signed but didn’t get any money. If there really was corruption, you’d expect 97 out of 97 signers to have received money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Statistics are your friend

Don’t confuse the debate with facts. What Lessig (and TD by extension) are doing is attempting to muddle the issue (some call it FUD) by leaving out certain information, and by declaring them as corrupt and then disclaiming it later on.

So. Assuming that the mix of people signing is the same as the overall house (and it never is), approximately 74 of them would have received campaign contributions from comcast no matter what. So the question now is only 10 members difference. Put it another way, there is about an 11% shift from the overall group, which could easily be explained by political alignment, states or districts covered, etc.

Basically, it’s a non story. But by not mentioning how many members (76% overall) received campaign support from comcast, they leave out a very significant piece of data, and leave the reader to think that the members who signed are the only ones who received comcast contributions, which is not the case.

FUD.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Hmmm, Not Enough To Draw Conclusions

Devil’s advocate:

1. This doesn’t imply that those members who voted to push the merger through were only doing so because they received contributions. People tend to support politicians who support them. That’s not necessarily corruption.

2. It says nothing about the % of other senators who received money and did not sign the letter.

I know where you’re trying to go, but this:

whether or not there is actual corruption here obscures the point that it certainly looks corrupt

Strikes me as a bit silly. Statistics can be used to support any position you like, depending on how you frame it and define your terms. Therefore, any statistic can be made to make an arbitrary group of politicians look corrupt.

I’m not saying politicians aren’t corrupt, but this kind of simple correlation adds nothing interesting to the debate on its own.

freak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Spending caps.

People who go beyond the spending caps, or try to work around them by getting someone else to spend the money, are automatically disqualified, or otherwise penalized.

Mind you, that raises 1st amendment issues when someone wants to advertise their political position by backing a politician.

Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that spending caps on political campaigns are a good idea.

Donald Elliott says:

Election Funding

One of the founding principles of the country was communities electing legislators who at each level city, county, state and nation who worked for the common weal of the electorate. This country has lost this. Legislators while elected by voters in their respective districts use money provided by others to include foreigners to gain voter favor and election. This must change.

I propose a constitutional amendment to State Constitutions and the United States Constitution that limits candidate campaign financing to donations from only those citizens that are registered to vote in the election of the candidate. If an individual is running for dog catcher in a county, then the candidate may only spend money on his campaign raised by county registered voters. This same law would apply to all elections in a state to include the Presidential election. Funding for national campaign advertising aired or distributed in a state must come from registered voters in that state. This needs to be a grass roots effort in each state.

While there are always unintended consequences, I firmly believe such an amendment would remind legislators at all levels that they work first for their voters, improve legislative accountability and greatly reduce campaign spending making opportunities for those not wealthy or endowed by special interest able to run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Election Funding

Your amendment would violation the first amendment very clearly. You cannot stop a citizen from expressing themselves, nor can you stop them from supporting a campaign in an area they will no be voting. They still have free speech rights. Campaign donations are part of those rights.

Where you really need to look is the PACs, where money slushes around and is often used for some of the most misleading and dishonest advertising you will ever see. That is the real issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s the problem with this country when I read these negative comments. A lot of people just don’t give a damn!! That’s a very big reason why this country can’t progress! Too many people oblivious and ignorant. Complacency (: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies) is killing this country!!!

CastorTroy (profile) says:

Run for Office

OK, as someone who has run for office (though a local not Federal office), I will share what i learned in 2010.

1) first thing the professional campaign managers tell you: you spend time with the people who give you money, the more they give the more access and time (phone calls, luncheons, meetings, letters, what ever, the higher the $ the more time you spend with them listening and speaking, greasing the wheels for more money).

2) If you spend a lot of time with your supporters (Money people) you tend to take on their lines, because you must keep them happy to get the money for the Campaign.

3) I managed to stay clean and I feel honest, people generally didn’t care… they cared about what kind of hand outs, what i looked like, and what big names said about me and the campaign.

4) if good people and ideas won, the average person would approve of Congress (yet they celebrate a 34% approval rating because its up from 10%).

5) the best way to run is targeted TV and to get your people to vote, while pushing the people who oppose you to not vote at all (negative adds are run not to hit the other guy but his base). HENCE BIG DOLLARS.

6) if the system really worked we would have about 10 political parties, or 3 large ones and 5 smaller ones and all would be viable… but the 2 today have made laws to regulate and hamper others from playing (sounds like any country we used to know Comrade?)

for a job that paid 60K a year, my opponent spent 200K, i spent 10k and for the record I lost…

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Run for Office

I agree I had a similar experience running for the state legislature.

It seems to me that one point Mike was making that really hasn’t been discussed is that this wasn’t a vote where members were supposed to vote one way or the other. This was a letter sent to try to influence a different branch of the government.

Personally if I was asked to sign such a letter and had received a contribution from one of the parties involved, I would feel uncomfortable and would have to decline.

But then I have some integrity it seems most members of congress do not.

Tandem Segue says:

The fact of the matter is that the big bobbleheads at Comcast have figured out that you can’t bite the hand that feeds you but if you feed that hand that bites you then you can make a bit of headway. Without feeding the congressmen the merger wouldn’t have much wiggle room so why the hell not? Why should they give a shit what society thinks as long as it becomes profitable for everyone who is directly involved? They don’t. Money is the devil’s catnip and it looks to me like the devil is at play. This country is a pile of shit and it’s the people who live above it all that keep piling it on top.

Tayla Emmmagan says:

Exodus 23:8

New International Version (?1984)
“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.

New Living Translation (?2007)
“Take no bribes, for a bribe makes you ignore something that you clearly see. A bribe makes even a righteous person twist the truth.

English Standard Version (?2001)
And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

New American Standard Bible (?1995)
“You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.

Thomas (profile) says:

Congress...

is basically corrupt, plain and simple. Any honest Congressmen were voted out long ago and honest people can’t get elected cause they will not take the dirty money and vote as they are told by their sponsors. Bribery is simply endemic in Congress, the regulatory agencies like the FCC, and the WhiteHouse.

They call it “election campaign contributions” when in reality it is simply a bribe. It’s not just the election campaign contributions, it’s the “gifts” from lobbying groups plus the money that gets slipped to Congres in other forms such as jobs for family members and friends, drugs, hookers, and free vacations.

We obviously have the worst government money can buy.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Corruption in politics

It would make better sense to have campaign finance reform, or to make contributions to politicians illegal, and have public financing. Otherwise, you would have politicians saying “due to my skillful moves, grateful people (such as Comcast) are financing me in the public interest”.

Believe it or not, there are large numbers of people who would believe it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is not what corruption looks like

Eh Joe, correlation does not prove causation remember? REMEMBER? Must of slipped your mind eh? Yes, yes, I know you said it above not long ago but it’s such a damn tricky phrase to remember – and then there’s the all that difficulty of keeping your opinions consistent piled on top. It’s a nightmare!!

average_joe says:

Re: Re: Re: This is not what corruption looks like

LOL! You’re funny! I like that.

The point is that perhaps the numbers are probative of corruption, or perhaps they’re not. Saying here’s “what corruption looks like” is FUD because the same numbers also could be what corruption doesn’t look like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is not what corruption looks like

“because the same numbers also could be what corruption doesn’t look like.”

This could be said for anything. A criminals fingerprints at the crime scene could be what guilt looks like, but maybe the criminal was there for some other reason. His fingerprints at the crime scene could be what being guilty doesn’t look like. and maybe ten eye witnesses who saw him at the crime scene, at about the same time that the crime probably occurred, was what him being guilty doesn’t look like. Maybe he want to the crime scene to defend the victim. Maybe the criminal was coincidentally passing by. So it’s possible that all this evidence is what his innocence looks like and what his guilt doesn’t look like. But at the very least the possibility of his guilt should be discussed and considered.

Paul Carlson (profile) says:

Take away private funding?

I wonder what our electoral process would look like if all candidates were unable to use private funds to run for office and instead were all issued the same amount (by type, ie, senate, president etc.) from the Government. Of course some process would have to reimburse the government.

Or allow corporations to spend their monies directly advertising the candidates they support but kill the contributions.

LarryK (user link) says:

This is (one way) corruption looks - there are many others

Lobbyists get paid enormous amounts – more than the politicians – to make sure politicians get done what they are paid to do in many different ways, so that corporations get a large return on their investment in government.
Maybe the 13 that did not get paid did not like Keith Olberman; maybe they will get favorable profiles on MSNBC, or maybe that unfavorable one will get spiked. The process is complex and opaque – but be sure of this: those who pay, less than 1% of the population profit enormously at the expense of the rest of us. The only way causation could be proven – rather than mere correlation – would be to effectively stop the money flow that has been largely unchecked since 1976 when in Buckley v Valeo the Supreme Court mandated the system of money in politics we now have. If, after we cut of this flow of money, the top 1% stop getting profits from purchasing policy and increasing their share of national income and wealth as they have since 1976, and our cumulating national problems get solved, we will have the on-off switch than proves causation.
Until then we will have to rely on common sense that corporations do not pay – as shown here – to both parties without expecting something of value in return. As a consequence we all lose, as we have increasingly since 1976 while the political/corporate class has fluorished.

Do you think it is time to do something about it?
http://moneyouttapolitics.org/

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