Comcast, TWC back off funding dinner for FCC's Clyburn

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) wants to keep everything out of the shadows, so it's pulling its reported $110,000 support for a function honoring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn while she and the agency are in the process of reviewing Comcast's $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

The nation's top MSO and Time Warner Cable had originally pledged to spend $132,000 combined towards a dinner hosted by the Walter Kaitz Foundation honoring Mignon. The Kaitz Foundation's annual affair highlights greater diversity in the cable industry and Mignon will receive the "diversity award" for her accomplishment as the first African-American female to have been FCC chair.

The contributions immediately created a hailstorm of criticism highlighted by Techdirt which opined: "Diversity is a good thing and we're all for it. It's also great that Comcast and TWC want to 'support' diversity. But the questionable optics here are quite troubling--even if it's technically legal" and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) which said the pair's action "doesn't look so good."

In a letter to foundation executive director, Comcast Foundation president Charisse Lillie said her company was pulling its funding because it did not want either Clyburn or the foundation to "fall under a shadow as a result of our support for diversity in the cable industry," a story in Multichannel News said.

Comcast had first defended its position, with spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice fuming that the company "absolutely dispute(s) the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree. Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence. They are purely fiction. We have supported the organization year in and year out regardless of who the dinner honorees have been," a story in Latest.com reported.

In addition to pulling the contribution, Lillie said, "We also request that there be no recognition of Comcast at the dinner."

Comcast has redirected the $100,000 into an "unrestricted contribution to Kaitz Foundation" so that the foundation "can continue its important work," Lillie said in the letter.

CREW, among the first to point out the contributions, issued a statement stating it was "glad Comcast recognizes donating more than $100,000 to honor a regulator with authority over their pending merger … raises serious questions."

Initially TWC issued a statement saying it was "pleased to continue our support this year as we do every year at the annual Kaitz Dinner," according to Multichannel News.

That support, while not suspended, was later redirected via a phone call, a Time Warner Cable spokesman told Politico, noting in a statement that "it's unfortunate that our long-standing sponsorship of this fundraising event dedicated to advancing diversity in cable has been mischaracterized by a few. We are re-directing our giving from the Kaitz dinner to the Foundation's unrestricted funds to support their programs. TWC will not be recognized as a sponsor."

For more:
- Multichannel News has this story
- The Washington Post has this story
- Politico has this story
- The Verge has this story

Related articles:
Comcast-TWC critics look askance at $130K fete for FCC's Clyburn
FCC starts 180-day clock on Comcast-TWC merger review
Tom Wheeler sworn in as FCC chairman

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