Comcast’s New Lobbyist: Conflict of Interest?

    May 20, 2011

Many people within the American public have, and still, criticize the Comcast and NBC Universal merger. However, the disapproval reached a new level last week. Meredith Attwell Baker, a commissioner with the FCC, announced that she would be leaving the commission when her term ends next month to take a lobbyist position with none other than Comcast.

In case you forgot, this announcement comes just a little less than four months since Baker voted to approve the cable giant’s merger with NBC Universal. A little fishy, right? Under her new position, she is barred from lobbying the FCC, but she can still use her connections in Congress in order to benefit Comcast’s cause.

Should this action be acceptable? We’d love to hear your opinion.

Joel Kelsey, who is a political advisor with nonprofit group Free Press, told us that these “revolving door” instances are happening so frequently that they have, essentially, turned into a “valet service.”

“It’s got a lot of people scratching their head because it’s not the only example of a revolving door aspect of FCC staff leaving the Commission to go work for the companies they once regulated, but it certainly is the most blatant example,” he said.

According to him, this is the type of ongoing behavior that has given the American people a bad impression of government. The regulators are supposed to protect the public even if the best interest isn’t in accordance with that of the shareholders and investors.

Although Commissioner Baker claims she acted within the law, Free Press and others believe the ethical issues are much greater. Kelsey said the biggest ethical issue is how and when Comcast went about asking Baker to come on board.

“There’s always the question of, ‘Do I want to go work for this company that offered me a job after I’m done with my time here at the Commission?’ And that is certain to have an affect on the decisions a commissioner makes,” he said.

While Kelsey doesn’t think that Baker’s influence would protect Comcast entirely from regulators, he did say that she could be a “cushion” for them. He and Free Press are asking people to contact Congressman Darrell Issa, who is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and request an investigation based on a conflict of interest for Baker.

Kelsey also suggests that consumers contact their senators and ask Congress to enforce a pledge that would limit how quickly employees of government agencies could work for the companies that they once regulated.

Do you think this type of pledge is necessary?