FCC commissioner draws heat, defenders for Comcast move


Meredith Baker’s decision to cut short her term at the Federal Communications Commission has drawn fire from activist groups, members of Congress and prominently from the New York Times. But she has also picked up defenders.

NYT entitled its editorial “That Didn’t Take Long,” and wrote, “Ms. Baker’s swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans’ cynicism about their government.” It listed a litany of other who made the same move from government to lobbyist, including former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, and concluded, “Congress should expand the definition of lobbying beyond face-to-face encounters to any effort to influence government decisions for their clients. It should also set tight caps on what former officials, including former lawmakers, can earn from lobbying before they must register as lobbyists. Americans don’t need any more reasons to mistrust Washington.”

Watchdog Free Press is mounting a campaign aimed at House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) to have the matter looked into, and according to The Hill, Issa is staying on top of the matter. The matter is also gotten the attention of House Energy and Commerce Committee member Jay Inslee (D-WA).
Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Ryan Chittum asked reporters to shine a bright light on the story. He said, “But the immediate story is what Baker’s move says about the ethical rot in our governing class and the ease with which they move back and forth between regulating companies and working for them, even after the Obama administration toughened rules on lobbying after leaving the government. Baker isn’t going to work for Comcast in the finance department, and of course she’s not going there to come to your house between 12 and 4 to fix your cable box. She’s going to lobby for Comcast itself, explicitly exploiting the connections and inside knowledge she’s collected in her powerful position.”

In her own defense, Baker stated, “Not once in my entire tenure as a Commissioner had anyone at Comcast or NBCUniversal approached me about potential employment. I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further. I have not participated or voted any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBCUniversal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment.”

At least one group that is often at odds with the FCC had nothing but kind words and good wishes for Baker. Here they are: “The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council commends FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker for her years of dedication to public service. Throughout her career, Commissioner Baker has been a champion of diversity, judicious spectrum management, and affordable television and
broadband access for all Americans. We particularly commend Commissioner Baker for the interest she took in MMTC and in civil rights and minority entrepreneurship issues. MMTC could always count her among those public officials willing to speak at our conferences and spend time with conference attendees. Commissioner Baker’s door was always open to MMTC. On the many occasions MMTC has worked with her, she has always demonstrated care, thoughtfulness, impartiality and sound judgment. We appreciate everything Commissioner Baker has done for the national interest and wish her a successful transition to her new career.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We can guess, but don’t exactly know why Comcast offered Baker a job or why she accepted it, but we do know why she approved of the merger and objected to the conditions – she is a Republican, and her position on the merger is solidly within the mainstream of Republican thought on mergers in general and the Comcast/NBCU deal in particular.

The bottom line in this case is that there was no reason for the principals in this transaction to go out of their way to influence Baker’s vote because philosophically, she was in their corner from the get go. We therefore believe that legally, no matter how much smoke some think they see, there is no fire here. This may become the impetus for a new look at lobbying rules, but we strongly doubt there is anything here to merit a specific investigation of Baker’s actions.