Telecommunications giant Comcast spent $110,000 to be a “presenting sponsor” at the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual dinner next month, Politico reports. Time Warner also spent $22,000 to be a sponsor the event. At the dinner, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn will be receiving the “Diversity Advocate” award. While large corporations donating to charities and philanthropic organizations isn’t rare, this particular donation has raised some eyebrows because of its timing.
Comcast is currently attempting to purchase Time Warner Cable. The $45 billion deal is under review and cannot take place without FCC approval. Clyburn is one of the regulators who will decide the companies’ fate. The merger would give Comcast control of around 30 percent of US cable subscribers and around 40 percent of the broadband market. Opponents say the deal with give Comcast too much control, while the two corporations claim the deal will increase investments in cable and internet technology.
“I think the timing is curious,” said research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Carrie Levine. “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 good.”
Both companies claim that there were no ulterior motives with their donations, as Comcast and Time Warner have given to the foundation in previous years.
“We absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree,” said Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement. “Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence … We have supported the organization year in and year out regardless of who the dinner honorees have been.”
While it is true that Comcast has donated similar amounts in years past, next month’s dinner will be the first in the foundation’s 33-year history that an FCC commissioner has been awarded. Coincidentally, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is on the foundation’s committee that chooses the dinners’ honorees.
Last month, Comcast cancelled a showcase of its connected-home products at the house of Kansas State Senator Julia Lynn after the event came under the scrutiny from the Kansas City Star. The newspaper questioned the ethics of an elected official endorsing a commercial service, and Comcast officials opted to move the event out of the senator’s home. Lynn had recently introduced legislation to prevent municipalities from starting their own telecom services, legislation that would greatly benefit Comcast.
With its armies of lobbyists and influence in corporate America, Comcast has shown time and again its willingness to use policy makers at state and national levels to get what it wants. It is willing to spend whatever it takes to influence laws, regulations, and even elections in its favor.