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
"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:
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.