Comcast-TWC critics look askance at $130K fete for FCC's Clyburn

Even as the FCC and other regulatory bodies continue to review Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) $45.2 billion bid to take over Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), the two companies plan to spend more than $130,000 on a dinner honoring FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, multiple reports say.

Mignon Clyburn, FCC

Clyburn (Source: FCC)

The dinner is part of a fundraising event for the Walter Kaitz Foundation which annually recognizes diversity in the cable industry. As a presenting sponsor, Comcast coughed up a $110,000 donation and TWC chipped in another $22,000 to be a benefactor, the Washington Post reported.

Both Comcast and Clyburn defended the situation, which has drawn some raised eyebrows among the MSO's critics.

Clyburn's office issued a statement that the function had been cleared with "the requisite ethics approval" and that "it makes sense to honor a champion of diversity and inclusion, the first African American woman on the commission and the only woman in the commission's 80-year history to serve as its chair," the Post article continued.

The Consumerist, meanwhile, took issue with the honor, quoting from a blog post by Carrie Levine, research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, that noted that two companies honoring an FCC commissioner "at the exact same time they're trying to get approval for a merger … doesn't look so good."

Techdirt added a voice of skepticism, noting "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."

For its part, Comcast strongly defended its position by noting, among other things, that criticism of its actions was "insulting."

According to Latest.com, spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice further added that Comcast "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."

While Fitzmaurice additionally told the Post that Comcast's position as an "industry leader" made it important to provide financial support of the Kaitz Foundation, opponents like Techdirt and Consumerist were not appeased.

"Comcast can be as insulted as they want, but the facts say that watchers are right to shoot some serious side-eye at this arrangement," Consumerist concluded, while Techdirt added the event "creates the perception that people in the public sector are in debt to the very companies they're supposed to be regulating."

For more:
- The Washington Post has this story
- Consumerist has this story
- Techdirt has this story
- Latest.com has this story
- Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington posted this blog item

Related articles:
Ergen to FCC: Reject the Comcast-TWC merger
Comcast's Cohen warns of 'parochial business interests' behind diversity demand
FCC starts 180-day clock on Comcast-TWC merger review
Comcast touts Internet Essentials in Michigan; Cable execs to speak at Goldman Sachs conference

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