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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 10:51am

    Does anyone else remember Obama's pledge not to employ lobbyists? I don't remember the details. It was long, long ago and apparently in a galaxy far, far away.

    It does seem that our new Corporate Overlords seem like friendly folk. At least we've got that going for us.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Re:

    That lasted all of six months into his first term I think. Maybe a year, but it didn't last long at all.

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:23am

    So the DOJ has some "rules folks" that care about ethics? Who knew? Where are Comcast's "rules folks" looking after their ethics? Oh wait this is Comcast we are talking about. Ethics isn't a word that's in their vocabulary.

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:29am

    Re:

    Furthermore, she had to be told no by "rules folks" and didn't see the massive problem with that invitation in the first place on her own? Really? With people like that in the there, why even have an Anti-trust Division of the DOJ at all?

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:46am

    Re: Re:

    The only Antitrust I see here is me with the DOJ.

     

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

  6.  
    identicon
    Adrian Lopez, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Remember back when the government broke up AT&T (formerly the Bell Telephone Company) because of its telephone monopoly? Allowing a merger between Comcast and Time Warner would be like allowing all the resulting companies to join together and form the Bell Telephone Company 2.0?

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    So you are saying you trust Comcast then?

     

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

  8.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:12pm

    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.

     

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

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Honestly, I'd trust Comcats mroe than the DoJ. And Comcast is run by frauds, thieves and scoundrels.

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:18pm

    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.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "frauds, thieves and scoundrels"

    Just like the DOJ.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:37pm

    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.

     

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

  13.  
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    Michael, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    They prefer "politicians"

     

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

  14.  
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    Michael, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 1:11pm

    Re:

    Does anyone else remember Obama's pledge not to employ lobbyists?

    As far as I know, his administration only employs former or future lobbyists, so he is in the clear.

     

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

  15.  
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    PRMan, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re:

    TV used to have this, but it was removed recently.

     

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

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Texas now has this for electric service. The company that owns and maintains infrastructure sells at a regulated rate to resellers that compete on open market for customers and it seems to work pretty well.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 7:40pm

    At least...

    At least if you are going to get a corrupt, unjustifiable decision, it may as well because they are friends rather than because of bribery.

     

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

  18.  
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    Whatever (profile), Jul 2nd, 2014 @ 11:48pm

    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.

     

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

  19.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 3:01am

    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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  20.  
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    P. Aaron, Jul 3rd, 2014 @ 5:46am

    Re: fogbugzd

    Dude! That was like 6 years ago!

     

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

  21.  
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    1st Dread Pirate Roberts (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

    Heap burning coals on their head

    Wow, sleeping with the enemy. I never thought about doing that. We are always told to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety.

     

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

  22.  
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    1st Dread Pirate Roberts (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:46pm

    Time to resign, Renata

    I think it is time for Renata to resign from government service. She has demonstrated that she cannot be trusted to make impartial decisions. At the very least she should recuse herself from this decision.

    The best we could hope for, in this case, is for it to be referred to the ALJ.

     

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

  23.  
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    richard40 (profile), Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:55pm

    Is there even a single agency in the Obama administration that is not rampant with corruption and crony capitalism.

     

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

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 4th, 2014 @ 2:58pm

    Renata's email is valid. Send nice email only.

     

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

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2014 @ 6:30pm

    Re:

    What a surprise, you're okay with collusion.

     

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


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