Comcast is sparing no expense to swallow Time Warner Cable. In addition to the $45 billion it will spend to expand its waistline from coast to coast, Comcast has padded the pockets of nearly every lawmaker responsible for overseeing the telecom giant's bid. According to a Politico investigation, the company has directed millions of dollars to lawmakers through its political action committee and donations to charitable causes and groups, and millions more on lobbying them.
Politico reports that 15 of the 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing on the Comcast deal on March 26th, have taken some form of contribution from Comcast. In the House Judiciary Committee, where a similar hearing will take place, 32 of the 39 members have received some kind of donation. And Comcast hasn't been shy about its influence; a recent BusinessWeek report illustrated the company's brazen presence on Capitol Hill, including vodka and s'more-fueled bonding sessions between congressional aides, administration officials, Olympic athletes, and Comcast's chief lobbyist.
Vodka, s'mores, and political favor
This behavior is completely expected. Comcast is a huge donor and lobbying spender in most years, and made a similar push in its successful bid for NBCUniversal, which was arguably more pernicious for consumers than its Time Warner buyout. If Congress bending to the will of America's largest corporations is a tired political trope, it's because of companies like Comcast, AT&T, and other telecommunications giants that have pervasively dominated nationwide lobbying over the past century.
Comcast says it's just participating in democracy. In a statement emailed to The Verge, Comcast VP of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice writes that "it is important for our customers, our employees and our shareholders that we participate in the political process. The majority of our PAC contributions are to the senators and members who represent our employees and customers." Of course, that's basically just an admission that Comcast tries to wield influence in the places it does business.
America's telecom giants have a legacy of lobbying Washington for profit-seeking, anti-consumer protections. AT&T, which has the pedigree of a major American monopoly, is legendary in Washington; the company sought revenge after losing its T-Mobile bid and continues to seed bills in Congress that would cripple the Federal Communications Commission. Verizon and Comcast have sought to keep agreements that would effectively eliminate cable companies from the field of wireless competition hidden from public scrutiny. And these companies say they support the principles of net neutrality even as they fought to dismantle it.
Pure and simple, Comcast's latest spending spree in Congress is nothing more than legalized bribery. But it's hard to blame it for using strategies that have been so successful for decades. Why compete when you can pay to win?