[Updated with statement from Comcast below]
Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is bragging of widespread support for its proposed $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE:TWC), but the victory chant is drowning out an important detail: Some of that support from public officials has followed big campaign contributions from Comcast executives.
In a blog post on the company’s corporate website last week, David L. Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief merger lobbyist, boasted that nearly 70 mayors and more than 60 additional state and local officials have gone on record as proponents of the proposed merger, which would combine the country’s No. 1 and No. 2 cable companies into one massive pay-TV and broadband colossus.
In expressing his gratitude, Cohen singled out one particularly pro-merger mayor, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. A former congressman and White House chief of staff, Emanuel wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Aug. 22 saying he believes the merger would be good for the Windy City, maintaining and enhancing Comcast’s “generous presence” in the area.
“We’re proud to have the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel,” Cohen wrote.
Not mentioned in Cohen’s post, however, is the fact that during his political career, Emanuel and political committees he controls has received more than $100,000 from Comcast and its employees.
For example, during his time running for and serving as mayor of Chicago, Emanuel has received large campaign contributions from Comcast and its employees, including from Cohen himself, who contributed $5,000 to Emanuel’s mayoral campaign in February 2011. Cohen also contributed $10,000 to the Chicago Committee, which the Chicago Tribune has described as Emanuel’s “other political fund (which) he uses for political activities that support his policy initiatives at City Hall.” In all, records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show Emanuel’s mayoral campaign and his other municipal political organizations have received $50,000 from Comcast employees since he began running for mayor in 2010.
Similarly, Comcast was also one of the top donors to Emanuel’s congressional campaigns, giving $46,000 to Emanuel between 2003 and 2008, according to records from Open Secrets. Additionally, employees of Comcast made more than $25,000 worth of contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when Emanuel chaired that organization, according to data from PoliticalMoneyLine.com.
In his letter to the FCC, Emanuel, a Democrat, touted Comcast’s commitment to providing Internet access to underserved Chicagoans. He cites Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” program, which aims to bridge the digital divide by offering Internet access to low-income customers. But that program, which began as an FCC-imposed condition of Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal, has been criticized as a half-hearted effort to improve Comcast’s image and acquire new customers at the same time. Last year, John Randall of the Roosevelt Institute called Internet Essentials a noble idea that is “deeply flawed in practice,” offering painfully slow connection speeds to only a small percentage of customers who are actually eligible for the program.
Opponents of the Comcast/TWC merger -- which include consumer groups and streaming services such as Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX), as well as lawmakers such as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) -- say the combined company would have unfair bargaining leverage against content creators and emerging competitors, reducing consumer choice, driving up already-inflated cable bills and amplifying the two companies’ notoriously poor customer service.
In his letter, however, Emanuel was right there to dispel each of those concerns, saying, “From our perspective, we do not believe the proposed transaction would reduce choice, elevate prices, or otherwise harm consumers.”
If that sounds like an especially rosy outlook, maybe it just looks that way from atop a pile of campaign cash.
Updated Wednesday, 1:20 p.m.
A Comcast spokesperson submitted the following statement:
“We are proudly committed to our local communities and work closely with them. We are honored to have the support of Mayor Emanuel as well as numerous community and education groups across the country -- many of them as their letters state work directly with us to implement Internet Essentials -- the success of which would not be possible without the partnership and support from local leaders, educators, and community and non-profit partners. We have a long history of working with local officials and community groups to improve the areas where our customers and our employees live and work.”