Comcast, which has a track record of conjuring support in Capitol Hill, is once again leveraging its influence as it seeks approval of its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.
While it’s not hard to imagine how much sway the company has with its 124-person lobbying army, a report from the New York Times has revealed just how much influence a company can buy. Charitable organizations, politicians, and think-tanks have submitted letters to federal regulators advocating the quick approval of the blockbuster merger. While the documents outline the benefits of letting the two biggest cable companies merge, it seems that the groups did not submit their recommendations without bias.
The proposed merger has gained support from the likes of the Houston Area Urban League, Americans for Tax Reform, the International Center for Law and Economics, and the campaign of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. However, the endorsements may amount to a conflict of interest. The Times report, which is based from tax documents and other disclosures, said that the groups received money from Comcast.
Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, who is in charge of government and regulatory affairs, said that he was proud of his company’s campaign for the deal. He admitted that the groups supporting the merger received money from his company. However, he disputed that their support required reciprocation.
“We have never provided financial support to an organization in exchange for support in a transaction,” Cohen told the Times. “Our support is based on the quality of the work they do in the community.”
Comcast has a history of aggressively generating support for its causes. In fact, it has been accused of missteps on some occasions. Last January, a report from The Verge outlined how Comcast was ghostwriting the letters that politicians sent to the FCC. The article showed a letter of support from Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia. In the letter, Roswell gushed about Comcast’s services.
“When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through … This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company,” the letter read. Through a public records request, it was found that the only thing Wood contributed was a sentence at the end and his signature. The rest of the letter was said to be written by a vice president of external affairs at Comcast.
Critics say that the merger would essentially create a monopoly. Consumer’s Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, said that “if approved, this merger would give Comcast control over sixty percent of cable and more than half of the high speed broadband in the U.S. We have submitted statements … explaining in detail the severe harms we believe this merger would cause competition and consumers.”
The fate of the proposed merger may be determined as early as the middle of the year. According to Comcast, they expect the Justice Department to finish their review by then.
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