FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker defends move to Comcast as backlash grows
Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker defended her decision to leave the regulatory agency to take a job at Comcast Corp. just months after voting yes on the cable giant's heavily scrutinized acquisition of General Electric Co.'s NBCUniversal.
In a statement, Baker said, "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." She said Comcast approached her about a job last month, which was when Bob Okun, the longtime head of NBC's D.C. lobbying office, announced his departure.
Since her hiring was announced earlier this week, Baker has taken lots of heat from media watchdogs.
"This is just the latest -- though perhaps most blatant -- example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating," said Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of Free Press, a nonprofit media reform organization.
On Friday, the New York Times weighed in with an editorial criticizing her move to Comcast.
"Ms. Baker's swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans' cynicism about their government," the editorial said, adding, that "the fact that it is legal and that she is just one of many doesn't make it better."
Baker is not the first government official to go to work for an industry she has regulated, but the timing has shined a brighter light than is usually the case. Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently took a the top job at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. (NCTA), which is the chief lobbying arm of the cable industry.
There will be some restrictions on Baker's lobbying efforts with regard to the FCC and Comcast.
A Republican appointee of President Obama whose term was set to expire next month, Baker said in her statement that she was planning to seek another term when Comcast approached her about joining the company's Washington office. Comcast has been beefing up its already hefty D.C. presence since acquiring control of NBCUniversal earlier this year. It hired Kyle McSlarrow, the former head of the NCTA to oversee its Capitol Hill efforts.
Although there is grousing that Baker scored points with Comcast and laid the groundwork for her new job by voting for the NBCUniversal deal, the merger passed by a 4-1 vote with two Democrats, including FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, also supporting it. The only one to vote against the deal was Commissioner Michael Copps, the panel's third Democrat. Whichever political party holds the White House has the majority of seats on the regulatory agency.
Interestingly, one theory making the rounds in some Beltway circles is that by hiring Baker, Comcast is also potentially doing a favor of sorts for Genachowski, whose support for the NBCUniversal deal was key to its approval.
That's because Copps must leave the FCC at the end of the year. Getting Copps' replacement through Congress would no doubt be a lengthy process, given tensions between Republicans and the FCC. If Baker had hung around, Genachowski and the Obama administration could have been stuck with an FCC of two Republicans and two Democrats. In other words: gridlock.
Now the administration can potentially package a Baker replacement with a Copps replacement for smoother sailing or the administration can keep the Republican seat vacant and still have a majority aftr Copps leaves.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Meredith Attwell Baker. Credit: FCC