The day after Comcast announced its intentions to buy out Time Warner Cable, it mobilized its army of lobbyists and consultants to gauge the atmosphere in Washington D.C concerning the deal. The company has no problem lobbying lawmakers and padding their campaigns with cash to get the job done either.
According to Politico, almost immediately after the merger announcement, consultants for Comcast and Time Warner Cable were sent the press release announcing the merger and given talking points to use on Capitol Hill and at federal agencies. Lobbyists working for both companies also reportedly began reaching out to lawmakers and agency staffers to report back on how the merger proposal was being received, according to sources familiar with the situation. Comcast and Time Warner Cable also spent some time playing offense with the media, releasing coordinated statements and talking points that assured that the deal would clear all the regulatory hurdles.
This is just the groundwork for what may prove to be a contentious battle on several fronts to make this deal a reality. That will involve convincing skeptical lawmakers, community organizations, agencies and advocacy groups well in advance of public hearings in the coming months.
For example, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen pledged to a "skeptical" Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he would make sure that Time Warner Cable jobs in New York would be preserved if the deal is approved.
"Once you take a breath, and think through this analytically, and get through some of the hysteria … this transaction is pro-consumer [and] pro-competitive," Cohen said on a call with reporters yesterday, according to Politico.
Comcast also released a memo yesterday detailing how it would divest assets (an estimated 3 million subscribers) and maintain its "net neutrality commitments" if it gets the green light on the acquisition.
But advocacy groups like the Greenlining Institute, see problems if this deal is approved.
"Where we’re really concerned is in the ability for a much bigger Comcast to give even more preferential treatment to the content and networks it owns through its purchase of NBC Universal," said Stephanie Chen, telecommunications policy director at The Greenlining Institute. "This merger would make a tough situation even tougher for smaller content providers, especially minority-owned and -produced content."
Senator Al Franken is another critic, who wrote the FTC, FCC, and DOJ on Thursday to say that the merger takes the industry in the wrong direction and reduces competition.
Still, Comcast is no stranger to using its lobbying power to sway opinion; in 2013 it spent $20 million lobbying Congress on reforms to the country’s cable laws, net neutrality rules and other issues it deemed important.. Time Warner Cable spent $8 million last year to lobby on many of those same issues, according to federal disclosures. Comcast will use law firms Davis Polk & Wardwell to handle antitrust issues and Wilkie Farr will be responsible for regulatory legal issues, according to Politico.
Comcast also donated $1.7 million to the 2014 reelection efforts of GOP Reps. Fred Upton (Mich.) and Greg Walden (Ore.), the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its top telecom panel, respectively. And the company reported having an additional $850,000 on hand to spend on campaigns at the beginning of January, according to disclosures to the Federal Election Commission.
Cohen also bundled more than $500,000 for President Barack Obama in 2012. The company employs some familiar names in D.C. as well including former FCC commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker.
The Sunlight Foundation tells Politico that the company is using a tried and true method to get its way: dole out some cash.
"I think whenever you have a company trying to get its way in Washington, one of the tried and true ways is giving a ton of money," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation. "Comcast has proven to be very adept at this."
We'll have to wait and see if this heavy lobbying, campaign contributions, and the use of familiar D.C. insiders is enough to get this merger approved in the long run, or if advocacy groups start to push hard against this merger due to a number of issues including how it will affect cable subscribers and Comcast's history of data capping broadband customers.