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.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 4th, 2014 @ 1:46pm

    Brilliant

    If the rules only apply to lobbyists, just say you're not a lobbyist, problem solved! /s

    The fact that such a laughably obvious strategy apparently works shows just how pathetically weak the rules are.

     

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  2.  
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    Baron von Robber, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 2:16pm

    And technically,

    I'm not a commentor. Nope, not commenting. Don't look.

     

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  3.  
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    Namel3ss (profile), Mar 4th, 2014 @ 2:41pm

    There should be a drone with this guy's name on it.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 2:50pm

    Technically the robot used the gun and not me. So I'm totally not guilty the robot is.

     

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  5.  
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    Alien Rebel (profile), Mar 4th, 2014 @ 3:37pm

    Details Matter

    "Soylent Green is People!!!"

    -That's Horrible!!!

    "But it's LOBBYISTS!!"

    -Damn, why didn't you say so? In that case, smashing idea!

     

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  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    bob, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 3:56pm

    BFD, half of the non-profit research organizations do the same thing

    All of the people you lovingly quote from places like the EFF are also doing much the same thing as lobbying. They're trying to influence public policy. Why do you only focus on the enemies of Google?

     

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  7.  
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    Alien Rebel (profile), Mar 4th, 2014 @ 3:59pm

    More Post-Apocalypse Fun

    Some pics on HuffPo nicely complement any discussion of D.C. lobbyists. Sculptural art by Issac Cardal

    "The sprawling installation mocks the collapse of capitalism, envisioning what would happen to the skyscrapers and men with briefcases once the financial system disappears.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 5:32pm

    Re: BFD, half of the non-profit research organizations do the same thing

    How about because the people at the EFF follow the law, where as, your pay masters don't.

    Are you really that stupid that you could not figure that out for yourself?

     

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  9.  
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    BeeAitch (profile), Mar 4th, 2014 @ 6:22pm

    Re: Details Matter

    Delicious!

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 6:24pm

    Re: Re:

    bob just hates it when due process is enforced.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 6:42pm

    If you trade money/favors/material possessions for laws/bills/favors/regulation you are a lobbyist. I don't care if you spend 20 hours or 20 seconds.

     

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  12.  
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    bought and paid Google shill, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 6:55pm

    Re: BFD, half of the non-profit research organizations do the same thing

    Why do you always pose EFF and techdirt authors as Google puppets?

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140221/09525626310/comcast-paying-minority-rights-groups -to-parrot-merger-support.shtml#c592 (Mike responding to you about a week ago, bold emphasis mine)
    "How much does Google pay the EFF to fight for "net neutrality"?

    Not much it seems. First off, EFF and Google have different positions on net neutrality, so if they're paying, they're not getting their money's worth.

    Second, it's simply untrue that Google is dumping tons of money into EFF. As EFF has disclosed, it received $10,000 from Google directly, and about $200,000 in "employee matches" meaning that Google will match what its employees choose to donate to.

    That was in 2010, when EFF's income was about 3.6 million. So, even if we include all of Google's matching (which again, is not by the choice of Google), we're talking... about 5%.

    Meanwhile, EFF has come down hard against Google on multiple other issues, mostly focused on privacy.

    Third, some people point to the $1 million that Google did eventually give EFF, but that wasn't by choice, but was the result of a *lawsuit* concerning a Google privacy violation, in which the judge ordered Google to give money to a bunch of privacy groups *WHO OPPOSED* Google's practices, including EFF.

    Fourth, Google has basically gone totally silent on net neutrality over the past four years anyway. They -- much to the annoyance of many of us -- have backed away from their strong support for neutrality as the company has become more powerful and also started running a network of its own. Many of us are uncomfortable with this.

    Fifth, this is totally different than what was being discussed in the article in the first place. This is about Comcast paying groups whose issues are totally unrelated to Comcast's to speak out in support. EFF was formed around internet legal and policy issues -- and, as far as I can tell, has never changed its position on net neutrality.

    So, yeah, as per usual, you don't know wtf you're talking about. Stop arguing against demons that don't exist. They just make you look ignorant and nutty."


    Here's more Google puppetry (link only for brevity's sake)
    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140110/12395525837/ford-vp-claims-company-is-tracking-every ones-driving-habits-then-denies-it.shtml#c243

     

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  13.  
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    zip, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 9:45pm

    I would think that if MPAA head (and former career politician) Chris Dodd is not technically a lobbyist, then Comcast's David Cohen is probably not either.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110221/14490613193/chris-dodd-breaking-promise-not-to-become-lobb yist-just-weeks-after-leaving-senate-joining-mpaa-as-top-lobbyist.shtml

     

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  14.  
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    zip, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 9:48pm

    Re:

    I'd like to know why that is not considered criminal bribery?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2014 @ 11:55pm

    Re: Re:

    Because considering it bribery would be UN-AMERICAN, of course.

     

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  16.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 12:41am

    Re: Re:

    Because money, lots of it.

    There's also the fact that those that should be cracking down on this... are also involved in it, quite enjoying those revolving doors and the perks they bring, and therefor not likely to want to rock the boat and put at risk the possibility for a lucrative 'retirement' for themselves down the road.

     

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  17.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 4:45am

    Re: Re:

    Because bribery creates a bond between two parties. They're both in trouble if it comes to light. We need to make it legal to accept bribes, and illegal to give them. That way you can take someone's cash and then turn around and call the cops.

     

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  18.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 5:49am

    Thanks! Now when I call Comcast Customer Support and get "David" on the line, I know exactly who I am talking to.

     

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  19.  
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    nasch (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 9:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    We need to make it legal to accept bribes, and illegal to give them. That way you can take someone's cash and then turn around and call the cops.

    Even better would be the other way around: bribe a politician, then turn him in to the FBI. Or maybe whoever reports the crime first gets immunity. Then bribers would never be sure they wouldn't be turned in, and neither would the politicians, making it too risky to do for most people.

     

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  20.  
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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Mar 9th, 2014 @ 6:04pm

    Follow him to see if he really is doing 18 hour days. If he isn't then the under 20% number he claims is just fiction.

     

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  21.  
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    Richard Bennett (profile), Mar 10th, 2014 @ 3:43pm

    By the same token, Masnick and Bode aren't really shills for the anti-copyright interests, they just look like it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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