Comcast Plus NBC Equals Lobby Frenzy

Comcast Corp.’s intention to take over NBC Universal is expected to spark a lobbying frenzy on Capitol Hill as lawmakers prepare to hold hearings on the mega-deal.

The Philadelphia-based cable provider has built up a formidable, bipartisan lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., that includes two dozen outside firms as well as a sizeable in-house team. In the first three quarters of this year, the company spent just more than $9 million on federal lobbying.

NBC’s parent company, General Electric Co., has an even bigger lobbying footprint, shelling out more than $18.6 million in the first nine months of this year to influence lawmakers and federal officials.

However, the announced deal could also provoke the opposition of rival media giants such as Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, as well as consumer groups and organized labor.

“Everybody will be up there [on Capitol Hill]. This is a big deal,— said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, which advocates for consumer rights on the Internet. Brodsky said there is a concern that Comcast’s takeover of NBC could result in the company “locking up programming online.—

Comcast over the years has shrewdly worked the Hill, he said.

“They have friends on both sides of the aisle,— Brodsky said.

The cable provider does not plan to dramatically expand its team to push the deal through official Washington.

“We are happy and comfortable with the inside and outside team we have,— said Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokeswoman. The company has a Washington office of 15 to 20 people, which includes secretaries and office assistants.

Leading the Congressional and White House lobbying effort is Melissa Maxfield, who has been vice president of federal government affairs since 2008.

Previously, Maxfield held a number of political positions with Congressional Democrats, including director of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s (S.D.) leadership political action committee and political liaison for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Focusing on Senate Democrats is Joe Trahern, the senior director of federal government affairs who worked for Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Trahern joined Comcast last summer after working in the Washington office of General Motors Co.

Lobbying Senate Republicans falls to Lindsey Dickinson, who worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), also a member of the Commerce Committee.

Focusing on the House side is Sam Lancaster, who worked for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and Peter Filon, who worked for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

Kathy Zachem, vice president of regulatory affairs, is the top person on the Comcast lobbying team responsible for handling approvals at federal agencies and commissions, including the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice.

One new hire in Comcast’s Washington office this month is Jordan Goldstein, a former staff member at the FCC who had previously worked for Newstar Satellite Systems Corp. Goldstein was hired before the deal was announced.

Comcast has also snatched up a blue-chip group of outside lobbying firms that include the Duberstein Group, DLA Piper, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, GrayLoeffler and Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates.

The Comcast lobbying crew is expected to work along with the General Electric and NBC team on Capitol Hill.

Comcast executives, including CEO Brian Roberts, are expected to travel to Washington soon to hold meetings with officials.

But one industry insider said he expected Comcast to do the heavy lifting.

“In most of these deals, the buyer does all the work. In this case, that would be Comcast,— the expert said.

General Electric’s Washington office referred calls to NBC’s New York office, which did not respond to a request for comment on their lobbying.

Comcast is likely to face some skeptical questioning on the Hill.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) has announced his intention to hold a hearing on the deal.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, have also called for hearings and have expressed early concerns.

“I have some serious questions about the deal announced for Comcast to assume control of NBC Universal,— Rockefeller said in a statement.

“When major media companies swell to control both content and distribution, we need to make sure consumers are not left with lesser content and higher rates,— Rockefeller added.

Topics: