Comcast's Biggest Lobbyist Dodges Lobbying Rules By Pretending He's Usually Not Lobbying
from the jack-of-one-trade dept
Comcast’s David Cohen is the company’s most influential policy and lobbying guru, being described by the Washington Post in late 2012 as a “wonk rock star” in telecom circles. Cohen, whose official title at the company is simply Executive Vice President, has spent the last decade helping Comcast navigate a stream of significant mergers and acquisitions, most notably the company’s 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal. In fact, Comcast’s NBC acquisition went through largely thanks to a list of merger conditions that were proposed by Cohen himself, including the offering of $10 broadband to homes that qualify for the school lunch program (a program that resulted in protests in Comcast’s hometown by folks who claimed the company made it intentionally difficult to actually qualify).
Cohen’s a lobbyist in all the ways you’d expect a lobbyist to be, from hob knobbing with regulators and fund raising for President Obama, to penning a litany of awful editorials about bad policy in papers nationwide. Every month or so Cohen can be found busily pretending the U.S. broadband market is competitive, or pretending that the United States’ mediocre showing in every meaningful global broadband stat actually means we’re leading the world at broadband. Yet despite spending the lion’s share of his time lobbying, Cohen doesn’t have to follow the disclosure rules for lobbyists — and hasn’t since 2007 — because he’s able to simply pretend he doesn’t spend much time lobbying:
“Only employees who spend 20 percent or more of their work on lobbying or related activities have to register in Washington. Comcast says Cohen, an executive vice president, doesn’t reach that threshold as he puts in 18-hour days spread across a wide array of responsibilities….by not registering as a lobbyist, Cohen doesn’t face limits on travel with lawmakers and doesn’t have to file reports on his contributions to campaigns or lawmakers’ pet foundations.”
By technically not being a lobbyist while being a very obvious lobbyist, Cohen is also allowed to dance around Obama’s rules prohibiting lobbyists from having close ties to the administration (rules we’ve long noted were rather toothless). Comcast’s top PR rep Sena Fitzmaurice points out that Comcast is just following the rules, but adds a little flourish in pretending that Cohen’s really just quite a gifted fellow who wears many hats:
“There are very clear legal definitions of what is a lobbyist, and we check them for all of our people who make government contacts every quarter and comply accordingly,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast vice president of government communications. Based in Philadelphia, not Washington, Cohen is responsible for government affairs, legal issues, communications, community investment, corporate real estate, and diversity, among other duties, Fitzmaurice said.”David has a quite broad portfolio.”
Yes, golly, David really is a jack of all trades, and also helps prune the rose bushes, clean the cat’s box, and occasionally can be found down in the motor pool giving tips on catalytic converters! Cohen’s a walking, breathing example of the uselessness of current lobbying rules. The current rules allow you to self-report your time spent with nobody anywhere in government bothering to confirm if you’re telling the truth or not. Cohen is almost certainly logging sixty-hour-plus work weeks pushing for Comcast’s attempted takeover of Time Warner Cable but worry not — the majority of that time is actually spent making copies, providing moral support to sad cable install technicians, and baking delicious cupcakes.