Comcast Spends $110k On Award Dinner For FCC Commissioner, Doesn’t See Why Anyone Thinks That’s A Problem

Comcast really wants to buy Time Warner Cable. Really really. And they have no shortage of ways, both subtle and obvious, to try to push the odds farther in their favor. Targeted philanthropy and sponsorships are definitely a part of that, and Comcast is usually happy to take the credit. So while spending six figures to sponsor an event honoring a sitting FCC commissioner who gets to make decisions about things like media mergers might seem a little out of bounds to the likes of you and me, Comcast is shocked, shocked that we would think they could possibly have an ulterior motive.

Politico reports that Comcast and Time Warner Cable have together contributed $132,000 ($110k from Comcast, $22k from TWC) this year to sponsor the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual dinner in September. The companies, along with others in the industry, have a long relationship with the Kaitz Foundation, which promotes diversity in the cable industry. But this year’s honoree is FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, so the timing has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Carrie Levine, research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote in a blog post that “the timing is curious.” Levine added, “They’re honoring an FCC commissioner at the exact same time they’re trying to get approval for a merger. And that doesn’t look so good.”

No, Comcast, it does not look good. In fact, it looks even worse than the event Comcast tried to throw at the home of an anti-municipal broadband state senator in Kansas last month.

Comcast, however, insists that there is nothing untoward going on and that we should be ashamed of ourselves for thinking so. They “absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree,” a Comcast spokesperson told Politico in a statement.

“Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence,” the statement continues. “They are purely fiction. We have supported the organization year in and year out regardless of who the dinner honorees have been.”

However, as Politico points out, this is the first time that a sitting FCC commissioner has been honored at the dinner in the foundation’s 33-year history. And although the honorees are chosen by a foundation planning committee, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is one of those committee members.

Comcast is clearly not above trying to buy their way into achieving the outcomes they want. They’ve got oodles of lobbyists, they’ve made plenty of campaign donations, and they even throw the occasional party for regulators.

It could just be a happy coincidence that Clyburn is the foundation’s chosen honoree this year, when the companies are spending so much money on sponsorship… except that despite their decades-long relationships with the foundation, the donations both companies made for this year’s dinner came in several months after the pair announced their intention to merge.

Comcast can be as insulted as they want, but the facts say that watchers are right to shoot some serious side-eye at this arrangement.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable help honor Mignon Clyburn amid merger review [Politico, via BGR]

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