Emails Show Cozy Relationship Between Comcast Execs And DOJ Antitrust Folks; Party Invitation Blocked By 'Rules Folks'

from the darn-rules-folks dept

A new FOIA discovery via Todd Feathers at MuckRock has turned up some emails showing a rather cozy relationship between top Comcast execs and Justice Department antitrust officials. In fact, just days before Comcast announced its intent to acquire Time Warner Cable, Comcast Senior VP of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, Kathryn Zachem, had invited Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Renata Hesse, to “attend a celebration of the opening ceremony” of the Sochi Olympics, care of Comcast NBC Universal. Hesse sent an email saying that she really wanted to attend but “the rules folks over here tell me I can’t do this.” Though, she still says that they need to get dinner sometime soon. When Zachem responds that she had hoped it would still be okay because “we have nothing formally before you all,” Hesse notes “our ethics rules are very restrictive.”

Two weeks later, Zachem was again emailing Hesse to give her “a heads up on an announcement we are making in the early AM.” It was, of course, the proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. A couple days later, there’s another email exchange between Zachem and Hesse, in which Hesse introduces Zachem to David Gelfand at the Justice Department who “will be working on this for the front office with me.” She notes “If you don’t know him, you will and I know you will like him. He’s just terrific.” Zachem replies: “Hello David – if Renata says I will like you then I already do!” Gelfand jokingly replies:

In the interest of full disclosure, Renata sent her nice email while still under the influence of my having just bought her a cup of coffee. But hopefully I can live up to the advance billing!

Just the kind of chummy, friendly relationship you want to see from the people tasked with determining whether or not your multi-billion merger should be allowed to go through. And, yes, I recognize that regulators and top execs in charge of regulatory affairs are going to have personal connections and relationships with each other. That happens. But given the situation and the timing, this certainly raises the usual questions of just how objective the DOJ’s review of the merger will be.

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Companies: comcast, time warner cable

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Comments on “Emails Show Cozy Relationship Between Comcast Execs And DOJ Antitrust Folks; Party Invitation Blocked By 'Rules Folks'”

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Bt Garner (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would not read too much into that, it is fairly common to “re-allocate” blame for having to say no to an offer (that is, to make it look like you were told no, even if you did not actually approach the “rules folks”).

Not saying that is what happened here (I have no evidence either way), but I have seen similar tactics used repeatedly in business to save face, without breaking the rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“similar tactics used repeatedly in business to save face”

THAT specifically is part of the problem. This is the Anti-trust Division of the DOJ we are talking about here. They are supposed to be the regulatory agency (ie. authority figure) in charge of making sure companies aren’t violating the law. They shouldn’t be negotiating “business” deals with companies where they have to worry about “saving face” with the company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

AT&T was allowed to screw up the entire break up so that it’s effectiveness was very limited. First AT&T was allowed to dictate which parts of the business it got to keep. One of those choices was to remain in the long distance business and give up the control of the local infrastructure. This allowed the break up to be on a regional basis effectively creating a bunch of local little monopolies in place of one giant one. This is similar to the cable market today. What we really need are rules that prohibit the owning of local infrastructure and the retail sale of services over that infrastructure at the same time.

Whatever (profile) says:

Seems mostly like the usual chatter type stuff you get between companies and regulators when they have to deal with each other on a regular basis. Quite simply, there is no reason for them to be dicks with each other. A friendly working relationship means that they can get things done and deal with the issues on an ongoing basis, rather than having and adversarial process which would be bad for both sides.

You have to remember that these processes are done by humans, not by machines.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Interesting, if a judge is found to be as friendly with the plaintiffs or the defendants I’d bet there would be consequences. But no, just because it’s in the executive it’s a-ok.

If I accept as much as a coffee from any company I ever inspect I may get severe penalties. But then again, my Government must work differently than that in your neverland.

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