David Cohen and Rhonda Cohen attend a White House state dinner.
Big business in the White House.
"At a museum near the U.S. Capitol three weeks ago, 700 guests sampled bratwurst and vodka and watched the Olympics. Comcast Corp.’s David Cohen addressed the crowd, which included the Russian ambassador.
Four nights later, Cohen donned a tuxedo, bow tie and cummerbund for a White House state dinner.
Companies often want their lobbyists to hobnob with lawmakers and regulators. Comcast takes that to new levels, increasing lobbying expenditures 23 times over 2001 levels, to $18.8 million last year — behind only Northrop Grumman Corp. in spending by a single company.
Comcast has a new target for its lobbying: regulatory approval for a $45.2 billion deal to buy Time Warner Cable Inc.
“They are ubiquitous,” said Gene Kimmelman, the Justice Department’s former chief competition counsel. “They really have everything covered at the highest levels of skill and experience.”
Led by Cohen, executive vice president in charge of government affairs, Comcast deploys more than 100 lobbyists, donates millions of dollars to politicians through its political action committee, gets help from charities it supports and enlists two former senators, three retired House members and a former Federal Communications Commission member.
“I have an old-fashioned view of advocacy,” Cohen said. “If you’re right on the merits, you deserve to succeed.”
Comcast has proved it can win U.S. approval for deals, which is how it became the nation’s No. 1 cable company.
What makes Comcast stand out is its approach.
First, it picks targets that aren’t direct competitors. Comcast “picks its mergers wisely,” said Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America. Time Warner is in cable, but it doesn’t compete for subscribers in the same areas as Comcast.
Second, it gives a little to get a little. In the Time Warner deal, Comcast announced that it would spin off 3 million subscribers to keep its total below 30 million, even though there are no rules limiting cable subscribership.
Comcast also “knows how to make concessions — unlike AT&T, which never makes a concession,” Cooper said.
Comcast had 26 lobbyists in 2001. That number grew to 107 last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In 2013, five former members of Congress were lobbying for Comcast, from ex-Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas to Senate Republican Whip Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
“This is a company that is playing all the angles, making sure that they have an open door on both sides of the aisle,” said Sheila Krumholz, CRP’s executive director."
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