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.

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  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 12 Aug 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Make sure there's a recording

    Otherwise when it comes times to pay the event bills, Comcast will lie about their committment and offer a year of discounted cable service instead.

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

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 12 Aug 2014 @ 2:47pm

    "soft corruption"

    Is that when you pay with bills instead of coins?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 2:55pm

    What's da problem?

    There's nothing unethical about this, in much the same way that there's nothing illegal about selling cigarettes that "fell off the back of a truck".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 3:13pm

    Corruption is corruption .

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 3:18pm

    If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, dare I say it is a duck? It is geting about time to sneak across the Canadian border, the stench here in the states is getting to be unbearable.

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

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 12 Aug 2014 @ 4:20pm

      Re:

      are you implying ducks stink ?
      i think that is most unfair, the duck i've eaten hasn't stunk at all...

      besides, we are in times of 'diode justice' (only works one way), the 1% pull legal justifications out of their butts and they pass muster (to odiferously mix metaphors), and the 99% can't depend on 'rights' or 'laws' or 'justice' at all...

      works out great for the 1%, and, after all, isn't that -both literally and figuratively- all that counts ? ? ?

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

    • identicon
      Socrates, 12 Aug 2014 @ 7:31pm

      Emigration

      Canada does full class-room education for people that seek to cancel their US citizenship, in an attempt to alleviate the queue.

      The scale of the emigration worries the US-government. Some of the retaliations and measures taken to limit emigration is demanding money to accept applications, choosing to unilaterally prolong the citizenship, double tax, demand money to end the citizenship, and so on.

      Most nations expect its citizens to pay a larger part of their income as tax. This will be unfamiliar for some. And then give more of it back, something that some ex-USA people find queer. The tax evasion argument for FATCA is quite ludicrous.

      You will probably be harassed and treated as an defector when you leave, so you might do the paperwork when you are safely out instead. Later you will probably be harassed at the border if you visit your friends and family after you have succeeded.


      But your (future) kids will be safer from bullying, attend fewer schools run by correction officers, get less zero tolerance abuse, less manhandling at airports, less stop-and-frisk, less SWATting, and generally grow up in a place were it is OK to think. And so do you.

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

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 13 Aug 2014 @ 9:50am

        Re: Emigration

        But your (future) kids will be safer from bullying, attend fewer schools run by correction officers, get less zero tolerance abuse, less manhandling at airports, less stop-and-frisk, less SWATting, and generally grow up in a place were it is OK to think. And so do you.

        Making Canadia sound so nice is part of your dirty Socialist plan to take over the world! ;-)

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

        • identicon
          Socrates, 14 Aug 2014 @ 5:59pm

          Voting

          An informed electorate casting votes that count. It might trigger change. It might spread. It might cause rights for citizens!

          And I admit that I like it ;-)

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

  • icon
    Alien Rebel (profile), 12 Aug 2014 @ 3:18pm

    Adjustment Bureau

    It's not corruption, it's merely the everyday business in D.C. of keeping our elected officials in an endless stream of controlled situations so they won't deviate from the plan. Beware lobbyists wearing hats.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 3:30pm

    Unbelievable how corruption happens in the open in US, and how companies can get away with spinning it into something else.

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

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 12 Aug 2014 @ 3:48pm

    "Questionable optics"?

    Still, I'm trying to figure out the relationship between the Walter Kaitz Foundation (which certainly seems to have laudable goals) and the NCTA (which seems to be a festering pile of...)

    The NCTA website seems to imply that the Kaitz Foundation is one of its projects. (See https://www.ncta.com/who-we-are .)

    So... if it helps, this could be seen as something more like ALL the major cable players honoring Clyburn, rather than just Comcast and TWC. OK, maybe that doesn't help. But it certainly business as usual across a lot of different industries.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 4:04pm

    Get hat p.o.s. out of the FCC now!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 12 Aug 2014 @ 4:07pm

    Just once...

    Just once I'd like to see a politician, or someone in an equally powerful position, take a stand and refuse to go to an event like this, noting, publicly, the appearance of massive conflict of interest and/or corruption.

    Yes such a decision would drastically cut down on the perks of the job(which is likely the biggest reason they never will), but it would certainly be refreshing to see them realize how obviously for sale their votes/voices are, and do something to try and minimize that.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 7:45pm

      Re: Just once...

      "Just once I'd like to see a politician, or someone in an equally powerful position, take a stand and refuse to go to an event like this, noting, publicly, the appearance of massive conflict of interest and/or corruption."

      If that happened they will then be accused of grandstanding.

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

    • identicon
      David, 12 Aug 2014 @ 11:25pm

      Re: Just once...

      Just once I'd like to see a politician, or someone in an equally powerful position, take a stand and refuse to go to an event like this, noting, publicly, the appearance of massive conflict of interest and/or corruption.

      This is the U.S.A. There are few other civilized countries where waiters are only paid their tips rather than a proper wage, leading to stuff like women being happy like anything to have the qualifications for working at "Hooters".

      Bending over and smiling when someone is waving dollar bills is part of the culture.

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

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 12 Aug 2014 @ 5:26pm

    Corruption is still corruption no mater what buzz words you place before it. Keep the puppets happy and fat and you have no problems.

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

  • identicon
    Greg Robert, 12 Aug 2014 @ 6:16pm

    De monopolize them

    Like with ma bell.
    Make them common carriers and get them OUT of the content packaging biz.
    And let me buy my hardware from competitors via Amazon and Best Buy.

    These guys are screwing us bad.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 8:26pm

    Funny, I don't remember any of this talk when Comcast sponsored a Public Knowledge event.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2014 @ 10:16pm

    I honestly prefer the bad old days of under the table bribes because at least they had the decency to hide it like the shameful thing it is. Legalized bribery is worse.

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

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 13 Aug 2014 @ 3:13pm

    Where's the PR department?

    Didn't anyone in Comcast's PR department say anything about how this would appear bad? Even though it may be technically legal, it's the job of the PR department to make sure the company is always seen in a positive light.
    Or is their PR department about ready to throw in the towel, especially in light of all the bad customer service issues?

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 Aug 2014 @ 3:38pm

      Re: Where's the PR department?

      Keep in mind the PR department's audience. Comcast doesn't have to compete for customers, so their top priority isn't impressing potential customers, it's impressing others such as regulators and Congress.

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


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