Comcast Donates to Groups, Lawmakers That Support Merger with Time Warner Cable

Executive vice president denies accusations of quid pro quo

AP

Comcast has donated thousands of dollars to charities, think tanks, and state lawmakers that have in turn endorsed the cable and Internet giant’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, the New York Times reports.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently accepting comments on the $45 billion deal and is expected to finish its review of the merger by the middle of this year, along with the Justice Department. While the majority of submissions to the FCC have expressed opposition to the merger, Comcast has also received some significant endorsements:

The argument has been reinforced by a blitz of academic papers from groups like the International Center for Law and Economics in Portland, Ore. More endorsements have come in from elected officials like Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican of Mississippi, and Fred Crespo, a Democratic state representative in Illinois.

"The merger will not hinder competition but will bring better technology to more consumers," Mr. Bryant said.

But there is a common element to dozens of these appeals: The senders received money from Comcast in recent years, either as a charitable donation, corporate support or a political contribution, records show.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen denied any accusations of a quid pro quo, telling the Times that his company has "never provided financial support to an organization in exchange for support in a transaction."

Some supporters of the Comcast-Time Warner deal, such as Geoffrey Manne with the International Center for Law and Economics, have failed to disclose their financial support from Comcast:

But nowhere in these statements does Mr. Manne directly disclose that Comcast is among a small group of donors that finances his nonprofit group, a fact that Mr. Manne confirmed in response to a question late last week.

"We are no value to our donors or ourselves unless we maintain our independence and academic rigor," he said, before adding that "maybe there is some subconscious thing there."

Comcast has longstanding ties to the Democratic Party and has donated millions to its candidates in the last couple decades. Experts have raised concerns about the merger’s effect on pricing and competition in the cable and Internet industries, as well as its impact on markets such as local political advertising.