Thursday, March 6, 2014

Comcast's web of influence touches many corners of Washington, not just Lobbying

As Comcast pushes for approval of a $45 billion merger that would cement its dominance of the cable industry, the company stands to benefit from ties across Washington that it has built through contributions to think tanks, civil rights groups, and other organizations.

Comcast’s prolific charitable spending, together with top-level political connections, a roster of executives who have held key jobs in government, and one of the biggest lobbying operations in the city, have helped establish its status as one of the most influential companies in Washington.

The company’s reach across the capital also illustrates the many tools beyond traditional lobbying that corporations have at their disposal as they seek to influence policymakers.

“They’ve spread a lot of money around town to a lot of places, just for moments like this,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group that opposes the Time Warner Cable merger. At a minimum, Comcast could encourage the deal’s critics to sit out the debate, he said. “At best, they’ve got a whole network of people advocating for them.”

The Comcast Foundation gave out just over $16 million in grants in 2012, the most recent year for which tax documents are available.

“It’s an important corporate responsibility to participate in making the communities where we do business healthy and vibrant,” said David Cohen, the company’s government relations chief. Comcast officials said most of the foundation’s giving has little to do with Washington but reflects a long-term commitment to civil rights, education and leadership development.

That kind of corporate largesse proved useful the last time Comcast was trying to win regulatory approval for a major transaction.

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