Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) contributed $132,000 to a fundraising dinner honoring a federal regulator who will rule on their proposed merger, the Washington Post reports.
Comcast donated $110,000 to the dinner honoring Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member Mignon Clyburn as a "presenting sponsor," while TWC contributed $22,000 as a "benefactor," according to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The FCC is one of the key regulatory agencies that must approve the merger.
Both Comcast and TWC said they were longstanding donors to the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s annual fundraising dinner, the Post reported:
Comcast said it spent at least $120,000 annually to back the foundation's fundraising dinner since 2011, when it took over NBC Universal. Since 2004, the two corporations have contributed more than $1 million combined to the event, according to the numbers she provided.
"We absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree," Fitzmaurice said. "Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence."
Time Warner's support for the foundation has been strong as well. Spokesman Bobby Amirshahi said the company has contributed between $40,000 and $55,000 annually to the group since 2011.
"After 30 years of supporting the Walter Kaitz Foundation and their work to advance the contributions of women and multi-ethnic professionals in cable, we're pleased to continue our support this year as we do every year at the annual Kaitz dinner," Amirshahi said.
Despite those longstanding contributions, CREW spokesman Derrick Crowe said the funding this year seems inappropriate. "Donating to a nonprofit and donating to a nonprofit specifically to honor an FCC commissioner who's about to rule on your upcoming merger are different things," he said. "Clearly, these companies want to influence the commissioner."
Comcast has assembled one of the largest lobbying teams ever seen in Washington to secure approval for the merger. The cable and Internet giant also has extensive ties to the Democratic Party, including millions in political donations to its candidates since 1989.
UPDATE 5:14 P.M.: Comcast has withdrawn its financial support from the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner and requested that it not be recognized at the event.
"As you know, our commitment to provide support for this year's dinner, at levels comparable to our past support of the dinner, was made in late 2013, months before any honorees were chosen for the dinner," said Charisse Lillie, president of the Comcast Foundation, in a letter sent to Kaitz on Thursday. "We have great respect and admiration for FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and for the Kaitz Foundation and its work. We do not want either the Commissioner or Kaitz to fall under a shadow as a result of our support for diversity in the cable industry, which is why we are withdrawing our support for the dinner."
Comcast did announce that it would make an unrestricted contribution of $110,000 to the Foundation so it "can continue its important work."