Comcast and Time Warner Cable today withdrew their respective contributions towards a dinner that will honor FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn next month. The Kaitz Dinner is an annual event hosted by the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which champions greater diversity in the cable industry. This year, Clyburn will be honored with the "diversity advocate" award during the ceremony. According to Politico, Comcast had planned to spend $110,000 to earn itself the distinction of "presenting sponsor." Time Warner Cable previously chipped in $22,000.
The timing of both Comcast and Time Warner Cable getting out their checkbooks raised red flags for at least one watchdog group, DC-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. "They’re honoring an FCC commissioner at the exact same time they’re trying to get approval for a merger. And that doesn’t look so good," said Carrie Levine, the group's research director. Both cable companies are pushing for a massive, $45 billion merger that (if approved) will dramatically alter the landscape of cable TV and internet service in the United States. And lobbying plays no small part in moving that plan forward.
Comcast and Time Warner Cable deny there was any conflict of interest
But Comcast and TWC both maintain that their contributions would've been business as usual; each company has regularly helped fund the Kaitz Dinner for years now. "We absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice told Politico. Fitzmaurice went on to blast any perceived conflict of interest as "purely fiction" and noted Comcast's history of backing the event. Both companies maintain their contributions were meant to help advance the Kaitz Foundation's cause of advancing diversity throughout the cable business. Both refute the notion they were trying to influence Clyburn's thinking with their generosity.
It's a fair argument, and there are no rules that legally would've blocked Comcast and Time Warner Cable from spending in this instance. But the companies have decided to avoid the headache altogether: Deadline says their money will now be directed to the foundation itself, and neither will be formally recognized during the dinner event. Comcast isn't pleased about having its hand forced, however, and in a statement said the initial accusations were "insulting and not supported by any evidence."
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