Comcast, Time Warner Cable Spend Big To 'Honor' FCC Commissioner Overseeing Their Merger Review
from the soft-corruption dept
We’ve written in the past about the idea of “soft corruption,” in which the direct exchange of money isn’t necessarily obvious, but the very clear appearance of conflicts of interest certainly erode the trust of the public in the policy makers. Even when everything is technically above-board, these actions attack the credibility of the policy process. Witness the latest example. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are each shelling out significant cash to “sponsor” an event which is honoring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn who, of course, is in the midst of a review over the merger proposal between the two companies. As Politico reports:
Comcast will pay $110,000 to be a top-level ?presenting sponsor? at the Walter Kaitz Foundation?s annual dinner in September, at which Clyburn is receiving the ?diversity advocate? award, according to a foundation spokeswoman. Time Warner Cable paid $22,000 in May to the foundation for the same event, according to a Senate lobbying disclosure filed at the end of last month. The foundation supports diversity in the cable industry.
Diversity is a good thing and we’re all for it. It’s also great that Comcast and TWC want to “support” diversity. But the questionable optics here are quite troubling — even if it’s technically legal:
There are no rules preventing businesses from helping to honor regulators in this way, and both companies say they have supported the foundation for years.
Comcast further claims that it’s “insulting” to suggest that its donation here has anything to do with Clyburn being honored at the event. And, indeed, Comcast has sponsored similar events from the same group, giving similar amounts — all while past honorees tended to be industry insiders, rather than public sector officials. So it’s doubtful that this is any sort of direct tit-for-tat type payment. But, again, that’s part of what’s so troubling about the nature of “soft corruption.” There’s still a pretty clear conflict of interest in the entire setup which — whether true or not — creates the perception that people in the public sector are in debt to the very companies they’re supposed to be regulating.