Comcast Really Wants Me To Stop Calling Their Top Lobbyist A 'Top Lobbyist'

from the tomato,-tomahto dept

Comcast executive David Cohen is, by dictionary definition, a lobbyist. And not just any lobbyist; a gushing profile piece by the Washington Post in 2012 called him a “wonk rock star” and the company’s “secret weapon,” who uses “his vast network of high-powered contacts” to help craft Comcast-friendly regulations and apply pressure on DC policy makers. You know, a lobbyist. Unless you’re Comcast, which has now e-mailed me repeatedly to demand I stop calling him that.

After I mentioned that Cohen was hosting a $2,700 per plate fundraising dinner for Hillary Clinton last month, I received this e-mail from Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice on June 18:

“Karl ? your piece today is offensive and inaccurate. David Cohen doesn?t pretend he?s not a lobbyist ? he isn?t by the definition of the legal term ? we keep very close records of his time and activities to make sure the law is complied with ? to imply that we are not complying with the law with no evidence is irresponsible journalism.”

You see, the legal DC definition of a lobbyist was beefed up slightly back in 2007, when the Lobbyist Disclosure Act was notably amended by the Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. Those changes required that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist, detail their travel with lawmakers, and more fully outline their contributions to politicians and their myriad foundations. Comcast addressed these changes by simply calling Cohen something else.

Cohen’s technical title ever since has been Senior Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, though more recently the company has been calling him the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer” with a big focus on “community investment”:

“David L. Cohen is Senior Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. David has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, legal affairs, corporate administration and community investment, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO. He also serves as Chief Diversity Officer for the company.”

Cohen played the starring role in selling regulators on Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011, crafting conditions it would later be discovered Comcast ignored at its leisure. Cohen’s secret weapon during that transaction was Internet Essentials, a program that promised low-income households $10, 5 Mbps broadband for a limited time should they jump through a laundry list of conditions. The program was frequently criticized for being intentionally hard to qualify for, though it provided an endless sea of PR opportunities to help portray Comcast as an agent of pure altruism.

Cohen also spearheads Comcast’s entirely-above board (and very common in telecom) practice of giving money to minority groups and organizations with the unwritten expectation that they parrot anti-consumer policy positions. These groups then sing the praises of Comcast’s latest merger or sell their constituents downriver on issues like net neutrality, helping to create an artificial sound wall of support for Comcast policies, which, as you may have noticed in your travels, often don’t benefit Comcast customers or the internet at large.

So while Cohen is clearly a lobbyist by dictionary definition or for anybody with optic nerves, he’s not a lobbyist by legal definition. He’s just a guy that really, really loves minority communities and helping the poor, and just happens to spend the lion’s share of his time whispering in politicians’ and regulators’ ears. In fact, as Fitzmaurice was kind enough to illustrate in another e-mail to me on July 18, Cohen has absolutely nothing to do with lobbying whatsoever:

“While I know asking you to be accurate may be futile, David Cohen is not Comcast?s top lobbyist, in fact he is not a lobbyist at all. Lobbyist has a very specific legal definition, and David Cohen does not fit it. David has several different sections of the business which report up to him, only one of which is Government Affairs. The top lobbyist in Washington is Melissa Maxfield.”

I responded by informing Fitzmaurice that I’m using the Random House definition of lobbyist, not Washington’s intentionally flimsy, watered down definition:

NOUN

1. a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest; a member of a lobby.

I write a lot about Comcast. Without bragging (since frankly it’s often unpleasant and I’d often rather be doing something else), I might write more about Comcast than potentially anyone on the internet. By and large my experiences with Comcast’s public relations department have actually been very positive, and on the very rare instance where they contact me to let me know a data point or statistic is in error (two or three times in a decade, looking at my inbox archive), I’m happy to correct it. But this is curiously the first issue that the company has felt the need to repeatedly reach out to me on, suggesting it’s a potentially sensitive subject for some strange reason.

So, out of respect for Comcast’s integrity and this nation’s great and unimpeachable legal apparatus, I’ve decided to acquiesce and start calling Cohen something different. I’m tossing around a number of potential titles. Funpants McGillicutty? Comcast’s “Overlord of entirely-authentic-and-not-at-all-politically-motivated-altruism”? Doctor Schnitzel-Fuhrer? Surely readers have a few suggestions.

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Comments on “Comcast Really Wants Me To Stop Calling Their Top Lobbyist A 'Top Lobbyist'”

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166 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

What....

Has everyone not been getting a good look at the Emperor’s new clothes or what?

Ever since Clinton (where my political chops begin) they have all be wearing a fairly fine array of them.

Nobody likes to call it like it is anymore from Political Correctness to Straight Up treason against the nation… unless of course you are at the wrong end of a disagreement with the power brokers.

Anonymous Coward says:

A rose by any other name...

Changing the definition of something doesn’t mean that you are doing any less of that thing. Perhaps if you didn’t want people calling you by a derogatory name, you would stop dragging the word through the mud with your actions.

Yesterday it was bribery. Today it’s lobbying. Tomorrow it’ll be something new that will retain its fresh new name smell until once again actions cause it to look bad.

In summary, if you want people to respect you, stop doing disrespectful things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, you want to be called a "writer" instead of "Google flack" when keep claiming Google Fiber's 27,000 subscribers is driving the industry that serves millions.

There must be something to that if you object, huh?

All this story of getting hung up on a label does is inflate your ego.

Just tell us actions and facts, don’t label. Non-fanboy (see how annoying labels are?) readers will decide based on substance, not your opinion.

Zonker says:

Re: Re:

There’s nothing to find out, he is already well known as Comcast’s top lobbyist. He just lobbied them to not classify him as being subject to the rules that apply to lobbyists and to call him “Chief Diversity Officer” instead. As long as he logs at least 80% of his time as “playing golf with [politician]” to maintain the illusion, the deal is made.

You see, that’s how a top lobbyist gets it done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh, but you want to be called a "writer" instead of "Google flack"

when keep claiming Google Fiber’s 27,000 subscribers is driving the industry that serves millions. There must be something to that if you object, huh?

All this story of getting hung up on a label does is inflate your ego.

Just tell us actions and facts, don’t label. Non-fanboy (see how annoying labels are?) readers will decide based on substance, not your opinion.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Oh, but you want to be called a "writer" instead of "Google flack"

Just tell us actions and facts, don’t label.

Well, the facts say Cohen is a lobbyist by the dictionary definition.

readers will decide based on substance, not your opinion

Aha, funny thing mr substance. I”d invite you to research about the worst companies in America for a bit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Oh, but you want to be called a "writer" instead of "Google flack"

Hmmm….

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines robbery as the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.

Interesting. So whoever’s labeling us as pirates really is full of shit.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Oh, but you want to be called a "writer" instead of "Google flack"

it’s not a label, it’s certainly a known fact and not opinion at all that he is a lobbyist, since.. you know, he is one who lobbies… Just because the legal definition has been twisted from it’s normal definition doesn’t mean people can’t use regular definition anymore. Lots of words have twisted legal meanings, just throw this one on the pile.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Public Perception Manipulator”, since it would more correctly qualify his main work and doesn’t have a legal definition afaik.

While Maxfield may satisfy the political definition of lobbyist, sir Cohen has been the most vocal public voice of manipulation compared to mme. Maxfield. But if both aren’t on the same page, that would be problematic for the company. Thus the points made by Cohen should be perfectly representative of Maxfield and the companys legally defined lobbying staff.

The endresult is solely a wordgame from Comcast in this case and barely qualifies as anything worth reporting. The piece, however, gives some really good transparency in the almost always completely opaque communication between a journalistic entity and a company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How about:

David L. Cohen (under Comcast legal department’s interpretation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) U.S.C. § ???? technically not a lobbyist)

Too long?
And I don’t know how many § and subsections it would need of whatever convoluted legaleze Congress managed to vomit up to create the whole thing.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It seems a little like companies that think they need to defend their trademarks to maintain validity.

To maintain the finely crafted veneer of “totally-intentionally barely-technically not-a-lobbyist” Cohen,
Comcast keeps “correcting” people who “mischaracterize” his actions (wink) and malign his forthright and uncontroversial (grin) work.

They’ve got no right or power to stop people from using the completely appropriate term, but public consensus is reminded that he still technically isn’t a lobbyist instead of settling on the reasonable and accurate belief that he is.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Those changes required that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist…”

Is this “time on the job” or just time in general? Because 40 hours a week is only 23% of the week already. Give him a generous vacation schedule, and and he wouldn’t even need to pretend to have other responsibilities.

ChrisB (profile) says:

if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying they have to register … as a lobbyist. … Comcast addressed these changes by simply calling Cohen something else.

No. Comcast addressed these changes by not having Cohen spend more than 20% lobbying. If you have proof that Cohen is spending more time lobbying (irrespective of what his title is), then get him charged. Otherwise, this whole piece reads like a chastised child.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

David Cohen doesn’t pretend he’s not a lobbyist

David Cohen is not Comcast’s top lobbyist, in fact he is not a lobbyist at all.

Comcast appears to suggest he’s both – a lobbyist, and yet not a lobbyist.
Seems as if there’s enough ambiguity there to drive a truck through, and that’s from their own spokesperson.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No. Comcast addressed these changes by not having Cohen spend more than 20% lobbying.

Yes, using Congress’ redefinition of the word lobbying. We’re (well, I’m not anyway) not in Congress, so I’ve no obligation to use their definition. Congress calls things that are black white all the time, so no-one is surprised to see them do it again here.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What are you talking about?
Bode is implying that Cohen is still lobbying 20% – 100% of the time, but since his title is Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast can skirt the law. This is an idiotic assertion. Obviously, Comcast just told Cohen to keep his lobbying under 20% and then he can “officially” not be a lobbyist. If Bode thinks something else is happening, then he should get Cohen charged.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Bode is implying that Cohen is still lobbying 20% – 100% of the time, but since his title is Chief Diversity Officer, Comcast can skirt the law.

I don’t know if you’re in the legal profession or what, but what you’re missing is that there’s more to this situation than what the law says. The law could be rewritten to say that someone is only a lobbyist if he does his lobbying while wearing a clown suit. However, that would not affect whether what a person was doing outside of a clown suit is actually lobbying – it would only affect the legal consequences for doing it.

Similarly, Karl is not saying that Cohen meets the legal definition of a lobbyist – he’s saying he meets the ordinary dictionary definition of a lobbyist. Which was explicitly and specifically mentioned in the story.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No, as I quoted above, Bode is saying Comcast is skirting the law by changing Cohen’s title. There is nothing in the law, as I know it, that says simply removing “lobbyist” from your business card allows you to lobby all you want and not be legally defined as a lobbyist.
The rest of the issue I totally understand. Yes, spending 19% of your time lobbying is basically the same as spending 20% of your time.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Yes, it’s just that one sentence that isn’t right, there is nothing wrong with calling him a lobbyist, that is what he is, but it’s not correct to say comcast is skirting anything by changing his title. They are simply hiding behind a legal term and pretending they don’t know good and well we aren’t in court and are not using legal terminology so obviously the common dictionary definition is what would apply.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, he isn’t. He’s pointing out that just because they government made a legal definition for “lobbyist” a few years ago, it does not mean that Cohen isn’t a lobbyist by any other definition.

He’s still a lobbyist, he just avoids spending enough time to be required to be a registered lobbyist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmm.

David Cohen doesn’t pretend he’s not a lobbyist…

Since double negatives cancel each other out, this sentence can be parsed as “David Cohen pretends he’s a lobbyist…”, which leads to the obvious label:

David Cohen, Comcast Magical Fairy Lobbyist

or, since they’re being rather shirty about accuracy:

David Cohen, Chief Comcast Bagman

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: F That

The problem is that it works.

They have been twisting language for a long time to render things like the constitution pointless.

Civil Forfeiture, Reasonable Suspicion, and bad comma placement are all examples of these things. And people think its all a mystery despite the fact that the founders are well on record for just exactly what they meant!

Roger Strong (profile) says:

he isn’t by the definition of the legal term

By an amazing coincidence, his hosting a $2,700 per plate fundraising dinner for a politician doesn’t meet the legal definition of bribery. Nor is the legal definition of influence peddling involved.

Let’s just say that Comcast has placed David Cohen in the Washington bribery and influence peddling pipeline, and he’s lodged there like a partially absorbed suppository. That doesn’t meet the legal definition of calling him a lobbyist.

lars626 (profile) says:

cabildero

Call him a ‘cabildero’.
That is the Spanish word for lobbyist.
More words of Spanish origin are becoming commonly used every day. No reason not to contribute. Besides, if we start using it some people will actually look it up and as a result actually think about what was said.

There are other words that come to mind, but my mother would not have approved of me using them. We could just use ‘varmint’. She would not mind that one and it does imply the proper level of disdain.

Jeff Green (profile) says:

It isn’t that I lobby
I just acquired the hobby
Of working hard to influence them all
It’s not because they paid me
And no, nobody made me,
It’s just that I’m at Comcast’s beck and call
A lobbyist I’m not
That’s simply Tommy rot

Your writing isn’t funny
I hand out LOADS of money
To anyone who’ll scream that they agree
It’s not influence I’m buying
(Although I’m really trying!)
It’s the only way that they’ll be friends with me
A lobbyist NO WAY
I simply preach for pay!

dakre (profile) says:

Bottom Lobby

So if he’s not the top lobbyist or a lobbyist, then what would you call him?

I like Chief Squirrel Executive, since he must have a short attention span with so much lobbying and not count as a lobbyist.

Or maybe we could call him “Licorice” (Lobbyist In Charge Of Reliably Injecting Campaign Endowment), but that’s just to give him an abbreviation that makes him sound weird.

Kent says:

Comcast lobbyist

From the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act definitions:

Lobbyist:
Any individual (1) who is either employed or retained by a client for financial or other compensation (2) whose services include more than one lobbying contact; and (3) whose lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her services’ time on behalf of that client during any three-month period.

Lobbying Contact:
Any oral, written, or electronic communication to a covered official that is made on behalf of a client with regard to the enumerated subjects at Sections 3(8)(A) of the Act (2 U.S.C. § 1602(8)(A)).

Threshold Requirements
In order to determine the applicability of the LDA, one must first look at the definition of “lobbyist” under Section 3(10) of the Act. Under this definition, an individual is a “lobbyist” with respect to a particular client if he or she makes more than one lobbying contact and his or her “lobbying activities” (as defined in Section 3(7)) constitute at least 20 percent of the individual’s time in services for that client over any three-month period.

Lobbying activity is defined in Section 3(7) as “lobbying contacts and efforts in support of such contacts, including … background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.” If the intent of the work is to support ongoing and future lobbying, then it would fall within the definition of lobbying activities. Timing of the work performed, as well as the status of the issue, is also pivotal. Generally, if work such as reporting or monitoring occurs at a time when future lobbying contacts are contemplated, such reporting and monitoring should be considered as a part of planning or coordinating of lobbying contacts, and therefore included as “lobbying activity.” If, on the other hand, a person reports back to the relevant committee or officer regarding the status of a completed effort, that activity would probably not be included as a lobbying activity, if reports are not being used to prepare a lobbying strategy the next time the issue is considered.

Communications excepted from the definition of “lobbying contact” under Section 3(8)(B) of the LDA may be considered “lobbying activities” under some circumstances. Communications excepted by Section 3(8)(B) will constitute “lobbying activities” if they are in support of other communications which constitute “lobbying contacts.”

If a communication is limited to routine information gathering questions and there is not an attempt to influence a covered official, the exception of Section 3(8)(B)(v) for “any other similar administrative request” would normally apply. In determining whether there is an attempt to influence a covered official, the identity of the person asking the questions and her relationship to the covered official obviously will be important factors.

Whoever knowingly fails: (1) to correct a defective filing within 60 days after notice of such a defect by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House; or (2) to comply with any other provision of the Act, may be subject to a civil fine of not more than $200,000, and whoever knowingly and corruptly fails to comply with any provision of this Act may be imprisoned for not more than 5 years or fined under title 18, United States Code, or both.

http://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/amended_lda_guide.html

Anonymous Coward says:

Some names I thought of:
An individual with a doctorate in rotation theory.

An individual whom appears to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about issues that benefit his employer as opposed to the general public.

An individual whom is full of human excrement.

An individual with an apparent lack of morality and ethics.

Anonymous Coward says:

You would seriously consider not calling him a lobbyist just because the government gave the word a very specific definition. In that case the government can simply redefine any word we wish to assign to someone, even if it’s a word we came up with, and limit our ability to express various thoughts by simply limiting the meaning of the words that we use. That’s not how language works. Contracts, for instance, often define their own words to avoid confusion since words can have different meanings in different contexts. We can coin a word and define it ourselves within a document or we can use an existing word that best approximates what we mean and define exactly what we intend it to mean within that document. That’s how language works. Comcast and the government don’t get to arbitrarily limit our vocabulary by simply taking a word and arbitrarily redefining it to their liking and then proclaiming we can’t use that word because we’re not using their definition of the word. That’s not how language and free speech works and we should not give in to such nonsense. Perhaps we can define our specific usage of the word lobbyist to make it clear that we aren’t using the arbitrary legal definition given by the government but we still have every right to call this person a lobbyist.

tqk (profile) says:

Dissembler in Chief.

It’s nothing to do with lieing, per se. It has everything to do with not telling the truth. “Make believe with the intent to deceive”. It even rhymes.

“Officer in charge of Corporate Propaganda” has a nice ring too.

Fabulist, fibster, falsifier, mythomaniac, palterer, prevaricator, pseudologist, pseudologue, spinner of yarns, yarner, eye-wool puller.

It’s interesting that we’ve managed to come up with so many words to describe the phenomenon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Top Effective Lobbyist

Well they admit they already make sure to monitor his time to make sure he doesn’t meet the legal definition of a lobbyist. They are probably annoyed because time and actions that legally ‘count’ as a lobbying depends on how his actions are perceived by another party and not so much the actual action.

Don’t screw up their loophole, since what counts as lobbying? Working on the material to give to a politician?
Just the time spent talking to politicians?
Arranging events for everyone but making sure not to leave out his politician contacts?
Handing out information of his political contacts to others and telling them to say ‘David sent me’?
Interacting with the politician’s staff but not the politician?
Having other employee’s do the time-consuming lobbying tasks that legally count as lobbying actions and then stepping in for the most important interactions so his recorded lobbying time is less than 20%?

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Executive Gargoyle & Intermittent Cash Funnel

This man’s job is to shovel enough money at people fast enough to make some of them not totally despise Comcast. Is there a doubt in anyone’s mind that Comcast would pay him to sit idly at a desk with his hands folded 81% percent of the time to skirt legally binding restrictions on influencing elected officials?

Anonymous Coward says:

That 20% number?

Does the law actually specify that’s 20% of the time he’s on the job? Or is it 20% of the 24-hour day?

Because 20% of 24 hours is 4 hours 48 minutes. That means he only has to spend 3 hours and 13 minutes of his on-the-clock hours in meetings, then spend the rest of his on-the-clock time lobbying and they can still claim “He’s under 20%!!!”

Monday (profile) says:

New Name

We all know the ‘Southpark’ people won’t sue, so let’s just use their logic and call him “Fag”. That “Fag on the Hill”.

He makes a noise, so call him that “You Noisy Fag Lobbyist”.

He’s trying to ruin your good time writing. Write in caps “YOU FAG!”

We’ll all know exactly what you mean. At least those of us who depend on Southpark for enlightenment occasionally.

This entry for ‘New Name’ has been brought to you by the noisy protestations of Big Fag from Comcast. 🙂

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 New Name

Do you even watch TV??? Nobody said anything about homosexual men.
What does watching TV have to with you perpetuating the use of a harmful insult that is against laws in some places?
Were you the one that reported my post?
Nope. I’d guess one of the staff of the site saw my comment and realised I’m right. Reported comments are only hidden, not deleted.
For whatever reason it’s gone.
Which I’m glad to see. One of my friends is gay, and I’m gay myself.
I’m done with you, Techdirt. Techdirt is history.
Bye, don’t let the door hit you on your way out!
Jackass.
Your unsuccessful attempt at another insult would hurt more if you weren’t looking in a mirror as you said it and you quit making multiple comments after saying you’re leaving.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Employment Agreement

So in Section 8(b)(iv) of Cohen’s latest employment agreement, I suspect Comcast is relying on the dictionary definition of “lobbyist” and not the statutory definition:

[S]ubparagraph (i) above restricts Employee from working on the account, or otherwise for the benefit, of a Competitive Business as a result of Employee’s working as an employee, consultant or in any other capacity for an entity that provides consulting, advisory, lobbying or similar services to other businesses.

Please ask, Karl. The people want to know.

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