updated 12:15 pm EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
Four committees have vast majority of members with Comcast funding
Comcast is scheduled to appear before Congress to defend its proposed $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Records have recently been uncovered that show Comcast's political action committee having given contributions to 15 of 18 Senate Judiciary Committe members, and 32 of 39 members of the House Judiciary Committee. Both committees have scheduled hearings regarding the merger, and can allow -- or prevent -- the buyout from happening.
The merger is a deal worth $45.2 billion. The purchase will see Comcast acquire all of Time Warner Cable's 284.9 million shares, with the stock-for-stock transaction exchanging each share for approximately 2.875 Comcast shares, or effectively $158.52 per Time Warner Cable share. Due to its size and involvement of media empires, the deal will receive a considerable amount of scrutiny from US regulators, as well as from shareholders. Comcast believes the acquisition will close by the end of 2014, despite the challenges it needs to hurdle.
While the donations are legal, the percent of politicians receiving lobbyist funds is notable. Comcast believes that its donations are "important for our customers, our employees and our shareholders" and are intended to show "that we participate in the political process." Comcast notes that "the majority of our PAC contributions are to the Senators and members who represent our employees and customers." Comcast's statement is correct, but not coincidentally, the contributions made are also to governmental officials who have areas with wide Comcast coverage and who sit on regulatory and oversight boards.
Ellen Miller, executive director of the governmental transparency advocacy group Sunlight Foundation sees the matter a little differently. She believes that "Comcast is a very sophisticated political player. They know that the money they give to both Republicans and Democrats buys them access -- everybody admits that in Washington today. So they have covered their bases by giving to nearly every single member of the committees that do oversight."
Prior to the 2011 and 2012 elections, Comcast doled out $3.5 million on candidates from both parties, in addition to lobbying funds to standing members. Already in 2014, it has paid $2 million, according to federal accounts.
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) also notes the lobbying with concern. "Comcast reportedly has an army of over 100 lobbyists ready to swarm Capitol Hill and whose goal is to push this through. Their top priority is Comcast's bottom line -- not whether this deal will be good for consumers," he said. "There's also a pretty cozy relationship between Comcast and the regulators that will evaluate this deal, which I find troubling."
Another governmental group in Washington, DC which will eventually hear arguments both pro and con about the merger is the House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to a Politico report, Comcast has sent funds to 50 of 54 of the House's Democrats and Republicans. A similar board in the Senate -- the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee -- has 20 of 24 members accepting money from Comcast.