Comcast Paying Minority Rights Groups To Parrot Merger Support
from the repeat-after-me-if-you'd-like-to-keep-your-funding dept
I’ve already talked a little bit about the media sound wall Comcast will construct to try and convince the press, public and regulators that their planned $42 billion merger with Time Warner Cable is a wonderful idea for everyone involved. Like any company with a healthy lobbyist budget, Comcast pays think tanks, consultants, PR reps, editorial writers, various front groups and a myriad of other policy tendrils to all repeat the same mantra: whatever it is we want will be great and you have nothing to worry about. As we saw with AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile, anybody and everybody who wants their Comcast money to keep flowing will come out in support of the deal, whether it’s rural Texas school associations, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Associations or even “balloonists.”
One specifically important cornerstone of these lobbying efforts involves paying minority advocacy groups to parrot your positions, given lobbyists appear to believe that these groups in particular provide an important additional layer of artificial, grass roots legitimacy to your entirely-artificial support base. AT&T’s T-Mobile deal, for example, received ample praise from groups like the The Hispanic Institute, the Latino Coalition, and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, all of which took funding from AT&T while insisting that less competition would bring great things to American consumers.
Comcast’s lobbying approach for the Time Warner Cable merger isn’t all that different. The New York Times notes that the company is paying groups like The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to sing the praises of Comcast’s latest effort to get more powerful:
“…what the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce did not mention in its statement praising the transaction was that it had collected at least $320,000 over the last five years from Comcast’s charitable foundation, which is run in part by David L. Cohen, the Comcast executive who oversees the corporation’s government affairs operations…And (top Comcast lobbyist David) Cohen adamantly rejected any suggestion that the corporation’s history of supporting nonprofit groups and charities, particularly groups that serve African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, was motivated by a desire to build political allies.”
The usual defense from companies is that this is just us being altruistic, even though the company involved usually sends these organizations an e-mail with a list of talking points they’d like to see parroted. Losing funding if you don’t play along is usually strongly implied:
“But even one of Comcast’s own lobbyists said in an interview that the relationship with some groups had a transactional flavor. “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 contract lobbyist for Comcast said, asking that he not be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, “even if it means they have become pawns.”
The sad part is that these organizations obviously wind up rooting against their constituents’ own best self-interests in the quest for continued funding. An AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile, for example, would have killed off T-Mobile and driven prices up, neither of which would have helped minorities (or anybody else). While the Comcast deal is different because Time Warner Cable and Comcast don’t compete, the deal could still result in greater vertical integration, a tougher time for small and minority-owned media businesses, and the imposition of data caps and broadband overages across a broader overall market area (aka: higher prices).
Combine this sound wall of artificial support with the oodles of money Comcast is throwing at Congress, The President, and the FCC, and it starts to get easier and easier to buy approval for bad ideas. That’s before you even point out that former FCC boss Michael Powell now runs the NCTA, the cable industry’s biggest lobbying organization, Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker now lobbies for Comcast, or DOJ Antitrust Division director William J. Baer represented NBCUniversal during Comcast’s acquisition. Did I mention Comcast’s David Cohen is a big Obama fundraiser?
While this greasy wheeling might make the deal get approved, it doesn’t change the truth that your argument or idea isn’t very good if you have to pay people to support it.