Another nondescript federal bureaucrat has moved from the government to being a lobbyist. Who cares, right? Well, in this — as in so many cases — such a seemingly small event equals far bigger results that affect us all.
This bureaucrat’s name is Meredith Attwell Baker. She’s a Republican member of the FCC. In January, she voted to approve the merger of Comcast with NBCU. It was a terrible media consolidation deal—one that sold out President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise for change in the way such media transactions against the public interest are handled.
Now, Baker has announced that she will soon go to work for the newly enlarged Comcast. She will be senior vice president for government affairs for NBC Universal. Yes, there are rules against lobbying certain people in such moves and Baker says she will abide by them. But we’ll never know, will we? Thanks to mergers like these, there's very little news media left to watch such matters.
Of course, the rule should have prevented her from even being hired by someone she regulated, but that would have closed a major loophole. Remember, this is not REAL government reform — only the kind that looks good on TV.
Baker is a former Commerce Department official who worked on telecommunications issues in George W. Bush’s administration. The revolving door between government and the lobbyists who seek to influence public policy and legislation on behalf of companies or other organizations was a target of “reform” by President Obama even before he took office.
During the 2008 campaign, he vowed to “close the revolving door” and “clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue” with “the most sweeping ethics reform in history.”
Didn’t happen, did it? Of course not.
Fortunately, the announcement drew immediate criticism from those who had opposed the Comcast-NBCU merger. Craig Aaron, the president and chief executive of Free Press, called the move “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.”
“No wonder the public is so nauseated by business as usual in Washington, where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows,” Aaron said. “The continuously revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy.”
Baker issued statements about her departure through both the FCC and Comcast, but did not address the real issues involving her outrageous move. I guess she just expects it to disappear into the huge void that is now the government-lobbyist landscape.
Sadly, the man President Obama nominated to change the FCC has also been co-opted. Not only did Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, vote for the Comcast-NBCU merger, but he actually praised Baker. “She’s made our decisions smarter and our policies better,” Genachowski said. “I wish her well in her new role at NBC Universal.”
Only one FCC commissioner, Michael J. Copps, who voted against the Comcast-NBCU merger, expressed surprise at Baker’s departure. Copps has lobbied hard and intelligently against media consolidation. But he is only one man and one voice. Worse yet, he's in his final term on the FCC.
This should be a scandal. But it’s not. Sadly, it’s business as usual today. It’s a good example of what went wrong with the United States and why we'll probably never come back.
After Baker tried to avoid making a public statement about the ethics of her new job, the heat apparently got to her. “Not once in my entire tenure as a commissioner had anyone at Comcast or NBC Universal approached me about potential employment,” she said in a statement. “When this opportunity became available in mid-April, I made a personal decision that I wanted to give it serious consideration.”
She said she sought advice from the general counsel of the FCC and, on April 18, recused herself from any matters involving Comcast or NBC Universal. “I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further,” Baker said. “I have not participated or voted any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBC Universal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment.”
Her other “friends” in Washington continue to defend her. Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, the nation’s top broadcast lobby group, said Baker has “a winning combination of integrity, intellect and experience” and noted that her “in-depth knowledge of broadcast issues” will make her a key player at Comcast-NBCU.
This outrageous situation gets even more sinister as the key players—unaware of their own ethical deficiencies—dig deeper holes for themselves. Baker may have squeaked by the legalities, but certainly not the ethics of going to work for Comcast-NBCU only four months after voting to approve the controversial merger. For Smith to say she has “integrity” only shows his own lack of ethical boundaries. As a lobbyist now, he was a former Republican senator involved with communications issues in the Senate.
There can be no clearer example of the pure corruption that exists in government and why the public is damned in all mergers so detrimental to the public interest. It would be hard for these gray suited grafters to sink any lower.