The decisions come after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington took issue with Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s contributions to the upcoming Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner — an annual fund-raiser for the industry’s efforts to promote diversity. The problem? This year’s soiree will honor FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, one of the federal regulators the cable giants are lobbying to support Comcast’s planned acquisition of TWC. Contributions to lawmakers’ and regulators’ “favored charities to curry favor is one of the more under the radar moves in Comcast’s merger playbook,” the group said.
The solution: The companies told the Foundation today that they will still help to fund its efforts, but not the dinner itself.
Comcast said in a letter that it will make an unrestricted $110,000 contribution to the Kaitz Foundation but is “withdrawing our financial support” for the event asking that “there be no recognition of Comcast at the dinner.” It added: “We do not want either the Commissioner or Kaitz to fall under a shadow as a result of our support for diversity in the cable industry….By the same token, we do not want to punish Kaitz or detract from its important work.” Charges that it is trying to curry favor with the FCC “are insulting and not supported by any evidence.” Last year it paid $140,000 to the Foundation, including $90,000 from NBCUniversal.
TWC delivered a similar message in a phone call. After donating $22,000 in May for the dinner, it is “re-directing” its contributions, and asked not to be listed as a dinner sponsor “to avoid any further misunderstandings…It’s unfortunate that our long-standing sponsorship of this fundraising event dedicated to advancing diversity in cable has been mischaracterized by a few.”
Everyone who’s anyone in cable shows up for the Kaitz dinner, which for decades has been the focal point for the industry’s so-called “hell week” of meetings.
While the cable companies grappled with their PR dustup, Comcast’s chief lobbyist for the deal, EVP David Cohen, was at the FCC making the case. On Monday he and other Comcast execs asked the staffers sorting through the matters to “focus on transaction-specific issues and on protecting competition” instead of “concerns regarding industry consolidation generally,” according to a company filing summarizing the discussion.