The Revolving Door Spins Hard: FCC's Clyburn Now Lobbying For T-Mobile

from the pivot-on-a-dime dept

If you hadn't noticed by now, U.S. lobbying restrictions are the legislative and police equivalent of damp, musty cardboard. While there are some basic guidelines in place, they're so filled with loopholes as to be largely useless. One of the bigger problems is the far-too-generous definition of lobbyist we currently employ, which lets lobbyists tap dance around disclosure rules if they just... pretend they're doing something else.

One case in point is Comcast's top lobbyist David Cohen, who routinely lobbies the government, but tap dances around the rules by calling himself the company's Chief Diversity Officer. Lobbying rules updated in 2007 require that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying in DC, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist. As such, folks like Cohen just call what they're doing something else, usually obfuscating their lobbying under what superficially appear to be more altruistic endeavors that often involve lobbying state and more local officials outside of DC.

Since US rules prevent regulators and Senators from immediately jumping into direct lobbying for the first year or two post-government, they'll often just call themselves "consultants" or "advisors" as they help their new clients lobby the government. Case in point: recently departed FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn this week announced that she'd be "advising" T-Mobile as the company tries to gain regulatory approval for its job and competition-eroding megamerger with Sprint:

"I’m advising T-Mobile and Sprint as it seeks to accelerate the creation of an inclusive nationwide 5G network on how to best build a bridge across the digital divide,” Clyburn told Politico.

Clyburn left her post last year, telling media outlets at the time she would “be a better public servant not serving on the FCC."

The move caught the consumer advocacy and activist community by surprise, given Clyburn's support of net neutrality (which T-Mobile opposed), and the solid work she did at the FCC trying to rein in an utterly broken prison telco monopoly. While T-Mobile and Sprint have tried to claim that the merger will somehow speed up America's quest for faster 5G networks (a claim Clyburn's clearly piggybacking on), they themselves have even acknowledged that's not really true.

Let's be real: Clyburn's there to help T-Mobile seal the deal via concessions. Concessions that aren't likely to actually thwart the most harmful impacts of the deal, particularly the 10,000 to 30,000 jobs that are expected to be cut as the combined company streamlines operations and inevitably eliminates redundant retail, support, and middle management positions. And concessions that the FCC probably won't enforce anyway, especially in the wake of the telecom lobby and T-Mobile having successfully convinced the Pai FCC to effectively neuter its oversight authority over the broken telecom sector.

Here in reality, T-Mobile's quest for regulatory approval for its merger hasn't been going particularly well. Every single consumer group has warned that the deal will consolidate an already troubled wireless sector, reducing the number of major wireless carriers from four to three -- dramatically reducing an already muted incentive to actually compete on price. Americans already pay some of the highest prices for wireless and fixed broadband among all developed nations, and the idea that more consolidation and fewer competitors will somehow fix this is simply not supported by factual data or reality:

"“This is not that complicated,” Fight For the Future Executive Director Evan Greer told Motherboard.

“More centralization and less competition isn't good for anyone except wealthy CEOs of telecom companies,” Greer said. “Telecom lobbyists have a long history of pretending that their policy goals are somehow magically aligned with helping the downtrodden, but it's a lie. This merger will mean more expensive, crappier cell phone plans, and hit the people who can least afford it the hardest."

Clyburn may have done some important work while at the FCC, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that revolving door regulation is highly corrosive.

FCC Commissioners have a long proud history of claiming to represent the public (once in a great while even actually doing so!), then shuffling off to lobby for telecom operators who'll actively make the problem (limited competition, high prices, terrible customer service) worse. Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was already on T-Mobile's payroll, telling anybody who'll listen this merger will be "great for America." Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker quickly hopped from the FCC to lobbyist spots in both the wireless sector and at Comcast. Former FCC boss Mike Powell is now the chief of the cable industry's biggest lobbying operation, the NCTA.

Efforts to actually fix the very broken US broadband sector are routinely derailed by revolving door lobbyists. And any efforts to shore up our flimsy lobbying guidelines are quickly derailed by those same dollar per holler influence peddlers. Across countless sectors we're stuck in a catch 22 where meaningful progress is routinely thwarted until public anger finally boils over, and the United States finally acknowledges it has a very real problem that will require more than just routine grumbling to resolve.

Filed Under: fcc, lobbying, mergers, mignon clyburn, revolving door, soft corruption
Companies: sprint, t-mobile


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Feb 2019 @ 10:39am

    Former public servants in such key positions should be forbidden to work to companies they oversee/regulate for at least 2 presidential terms after they leave. And senators and congressmen (and women) should be forbidden from proposing or voting in legislation that would impact their sponsors. Should but maybe this is impractical. I wonder what would be a good approach?

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 6 Feb 2019 @ 11:27am

    Lobbying rules updated in 2007 require that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying in DC, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist.

    Just out of curiosity, how is "their time" defined? That sounds like there could easily be half a dozen ways to abuse or exploit that rule...

    Also... what kind of parent names their daughter after a cut of steak?!? I mean, I've heard people talk about treating women "like a piece of meat," but I always thought it was a figure of speech!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Feb 2019 @ 1:34pm

    Well, at least they stopped handing out the campaign contributions on the congressional floor immediately prior to taking the vote as that might be frowned upon by those who do not understand how business is conducted in a corrupt system.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Feb 2019 @ 11:23pm

    Corrupt system is corrupt.... Water is wet.... Fire is hot... Most laws are only meant to apply to us, not our corporate masters and their puppets.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 9:10am

    I lose credibility when you don't mention that you said the same thing about job cuts after the MetroPCS merger, yet T-Mobile has thousands more employees now than then.

    How about a little of those facts and transparency we all love so much?

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


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