Strings Attached: Charities Comcast Donated To Send FCC Pro-Merger Letters

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Comcast has donated over $1.8 billion to local charities and now that its merger with NBC is on the table, it’s time to call in the chits. Charities that received contributions from Comcast are pouring out their epistolary support for the merger, and they appear to be less than spontaneous.

The Wrap:

When asked how [the president of a festival] learned that Comcast could use her support, she answered, “It came to my attention.”

[The executive director of a theater program] was asked to supply a letter in an e-mail from a Sacramento television station. “I was requested,” he said.

It’s better to give than to receive, but what’s even better is to give and receive.

For Comcast-NBCU, Charity Begins at the FCC [TheWrap] (Thanks to Klay!)

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  1. TuxthePenguin says:

    While this is a bit untoward, it makes sense that the charities would keep their donor happy. It costs them nothing (apart from time and postage). Maybe a bit of pain from being used, but I doubt most charities would be willing to tell a major donor “no.” Like most things, there are tons of charities out there to support – how many Breast Cancer charities are out there?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      But being asked by your charitable giver to show support for an issue that doesn’t actually effect them for fear of losing future charity dollars? That smells too much like extortion.

      No company should ever even ASK any company they gave tax-free money to for such a favor unless the issue at hand directly effects the charity.

      Quid pro Quo != charity.

      • nybiker says:

        effect != affect

        To affect someone or something.
        High waves are an effect of hurricanes.

        .Sorry, I read a story today in the new york daily news – Jeffrey Deck is the co-author of “The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time.”

    • peebozi says:

      Aaah, a free market capitalist who only thinks in terms of money.

      It could cost them their reputation, integrity AND time & postage.

      Do you have similar views towards politicians who keep their donors happy by writing favorable legislation for them?

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        Actually, I’d much rather a politician outright name a bill “The UAW has me by the throat Bill” or the “Comcast Donation Appreciation Act” rather than adding some rider or earmark that rarely gets noticed. I’m ALL about transparency and accountability. Heck, that’s why I don’t mind the Citizens decision – people will find out what corporations are donation and get in their junk about it. Just look at Target.

        If you are forced into a transparent situation (ie, you’re decision will be known) and you will be held accountable for that decision, you will act in a rational way. Might not be the ethical/moral choice I’d agree with, but I’d like to know you’re doing something for a reason.

        Actually, I don’t really think in terms of money. I usually couch most of my thoughts in terms of utility. Just so happens a lot of times that translates into money. Look at it this way: you could sell yourself out to Comcast for their donation. Or you could refuse and lose that donation. Of course, you could then get donations from anti-Comcast people by broadcasting what happened.

        Which is better for your charity in the short-, medium-, and long-term?

        That’s the decision that the directors will have to make. If they make it wrong… well, there’s always other Breast Cancer charities that will absorb what donations would have gone to the dead charity.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          No charity which lobbies the government for any consideration outside of their mission statement will ever see a dime from me, that’s for sure.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    They paid them money, and they turn around and write favorable letters for them

    I think this qualifies and taxable payments to these “charities.” In other words, they were paid off, not giving charity funds.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      Simply put – the “charitable” part of a donation is the amount in excess of goods or services received in return from a 501c3 entity. If you “donate” $100 for a $50 gift card, your charitable donation is only $50.

      What’s the dollar value of that letter? You could argue that there is some time involved plus the postage… but you’d have a hard time proving that. Mostly the value is intangible and the IRS doesn’t like to get into those types of arguments. After all, how many organizations advertise that they are “Proud Supporters of the (Insert Name here) Foundation.” What is the value of being able to advertise that fact? Yet the IRS doesn’t force them to discount that charitable donation for that value.

      Now, if they gave the donation with the UNDERSTANDING that they’d write a letter – ie, I’ll give you $10k if you write a letter in support, but not before – then you could discount the entire amount as a non-charitable contribution. But you’d need some evidence of that. Fat chance finding that.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        What about the lost money from NOT writing that letter? Perhap not illegal, but certainly immoral to stop giving because they wouldn’t stand next to you on some unrelated issue.

        And if I was on the board deciding whether this merger is legal, and got letters of support from their charities saying “they gave us money, so we support them” (which is how I’d interpret these letters) not only would that have no bearing on my decision, I imagine I’d think less of the company for requesting them.

        • partofme says:

          Future money is just that, future money. If anyone could prove that future money was tied to the letters, then the last case Tux mentions is applicable… to future donations. None of the past donations would be covered. You’d also need the same type of proof. Which is definitely a “good luck” situation.

      • nybiker says:

        And why do they have to say ‘proud’? We get it. I can’t stand seeing that phrase – proud sponsor. What, if the word isn’t there, are we to think someone put a gun to their head and said ‘ok, donate and say you are proud’?
        And maybe we shouldn’t let those companies that make that statement deduct their ‘contribution’? Let’s face it, all we need to know is that any given company makes a contribution. Why should they be able to advertise that fact and expect us to shop at their store or buy their product? If I make a contribution to Adventure Cycling Association, all they do is note it in their annual report and I get a thank you letter. That’s good enough for me, regardless of the amount. Sure they’ll break it out (like my alma mater and most other recipients do), but that’s it as far as the public notification gets. Maybe if I put the ‘proud sponsor’ messages in my email signature or on a website I might design, I can get people to hire me? Hmmm, maybe I’ve got something there.

    • ARP says:

      Agreed, if there is a quid pro quo of anything other than putting your name on plaque, acknowledging them in a newsletter or some other kind of “thank you” recognition, its a pay-off and isn’t a tax deductible charity donation.

    • tacotaco says:

      Don’t be naive. A corporations responsibility is to it’s shareholders and it’s job is to make money, no corp will ‘donate’ money. They are all in it for something, even if it’s just publicity or to look like they are pandering to a particular cause. There’s nothing wrong with that, but corporations are not and should not be philanthropists.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      It’s a different kind of astroturfing. Comcast wants to make it seem like these charities are supporting the merger, and since some of the charities were in dire financial situations and normally wouldn’t have an opinion at all if it weren’t for the fact that Comcast donated money to help them stay afloat, I am not surprised if Comcast dangled the money over their heads.

      I mean, I’m glad that a small, impoverished Illinois charity was able to buy computers and other educational equipment for the inner city youth, but it was bribe money.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Philadephia, not Illinois. The Philly example came right before the Illinois example. Goodness, I’m off my game today.

  3. PupJet says:

    If Comcast and other companies are giving this much to local charities, why don’t they start paying off our national debt of 10+ trillion bucks? Don’t get me wrong, I know that charities are always looking for handouts, but still, 1.8 billion? C’mon…start paying on our national debt and see what kind of tax write-off you get from the government (which for some odd reason I would think that “None” would be the optimal answer. LOL)

  4. FrugalFreak says:

    Sounds like “SportsSouth”

  5. chaesar says:

    1) FCC receives letter from organization
    2) FCC checks if said organization has ever received monies from Comcast
    3) If “Yes,” ignore letter

    • human_shield says:

      This. Any letter from these charities that the FCC gets should go straight to the circular file.

    • MrMan09 says:

      This implies that the FCC actually has enough staff to check these things. The congress critters like to cut their funding because cable told them to. It gives Comcast and the congress critters letters they can hold up and say see even these groups can see its beneficial!

      In the real world a newspaper would then investigate where the letters came from and report on it, and an informed public would then question how valid those letters are. Comcast would get egg on their face for this obvious quid pro quo, and people would look harder for the real downsides.

      Instead it will get overlooked as someone finds a way to blame it on the right or left and make up outlandish claims how its a socialist plot to take over the airwaves and infect the childrens minds with these horrible ideas of sharing and understanding. And letting Comcast control it all make sure we have a bastion of truth to make sure the children grow up without these ideas forced down their throats.

      Isn’t it nice the government of the people, by the people, and for the people always manages to keep corporate interests first, usually at the expense of the people?

  6. Tim says:

    If Comcast paid a professional firm to lobby the FCC for them, they’d have to pay thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of dollars. And it wouldn’t be tax-free. This sounds fishy.

    Also, the charity might be in trouble if you can prove that they were paid tax-free money in order to lobby for a for-profit company.

  7. peebozi says:

    In related news, politicians receiving bribes, er “campaign contricutions”, also favor the merger. go figure, huh?

  8. peebozi says:

    yes, in a government that had integrity, ethics and/or morals your proposal is excellent.

    • ARP says:

      How is the government involved in this? People have the right to comment on pending rules. It’s private corporations that are being shady by implicitly tying the donation to lobbying efforts.

  9. Mulva says:

    This just shocking. I’m from Illinois, these kind of shenanigans never happen here.

  10. ellmar says:

    Not a new tactic really. Many years ago our state’s liquor board was petitioned by a citizen’s group to deny a liquor license for a proposed (breast-themed) restaurant. The company in question filed a response that included over 100 “letters of support” from local non-profits. Upon closer inspection most of the letters were thank you notes, sent in response to small dollar or food donations the company had doled out. The Girl Scouts of America never knew that they had been listed as a supporter until contacted by the opposing party.