Like all mergers, the proposed $45.2 billion Comcast CMCSA -0.99% merger withTime Warner Cable TWC -0.51%—the largest and second largest cable providers in the nation—has its advocates and critics. There are certainly important questions about what impact the merger would have on consumers—but there are equally significant issues associated with the highly politicized approval process.
The Obama Department of Justice, led by Eric Holder, must review the merger and decide whether to approve or block it. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration and Justice Department have a long track record of pushing the rule of law aside and making decisions based on politics. Will the proposed Comcast merger with Time Warner Cable receive the scrutiny it deserves, or simply be fast-tracked for approval based on politics?
Let’s look at some history—which is detailed in a new Frontiers of Freedom report. In 2009, the Obama Administration gave Solyndra, a failing California solar panel firm, a $536 million “loan.” Shortly thereafter, Solyndra was fully bankrupt. Prior to the loan, Solyndra executives and board members gave generously to Barack Obama, including Tulsa oil billionaire and Obama bundler George Kaiser, one of Solyndra’s main investors.
UnitedHealth Group is expecting higher earnings thanks to ObamaCare. After United supported passing the plan, one of its subsidiaries, Quality Software Services, Inc. won a contract of $90 million for the rollout of Healthcare.gov. UnitedHealth’s Executive Vice President Anthony Welters and his wife are significant Obama donors and bundlers. The Administration did not perceive any conflict of interest in providing the nation’s largest health insurer with the keys to Healthcare.gov.
If money buys favors from the Obama Administration, a lack of it produces the opposite.
In 2011, AT&T T +0.14% announced it would seek permission from the government for a $39 billion merger with T-Mobile. Processing the application was expected to take at least twelve months. But within five months, the Department of Justice announced it had filed a lawsuit blocking the friendly merger.
Enter AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson, well known to be a free market Republican favoring pro-growth tax reform and opposing Obama-style redistributing income from the working class. Mr. Stephenson has a long history of Republican giving, and averaging the three election cycles between 2006–2010, AT&T employees supported Republican candidates by 60%.
Key government players during merger talks were Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Renata Hesse, now Deputy Attorney General for Anti Trust at DOJ, and of course, Attorney General Eric Holder, who runs the most blatantly politicized DOJ in history.
FCC Chairman Genachowski is a longtime technology advisor for Barack Obama, serving on his transition team. Obama appointed him FCC Chairman in 2009. He and his wife, another Obama appointee, are long time Obama donors. Ms. Hesse, then in charge of the AT&T merger at FCC, has donated more than $6K to Obama for America. In a policy forum last year, Ms. Hesse stated the Obama Administration’s approach to antitrust was “vigorous enforcement.” But does that apply evenly across all merger applications?
On February 14, 2014, Comcast announced intent to acquire Time Warner Cable in a deal worth $45.2 billion—$6 billion more than the AT&T/T-Mobile deal. This merger would also result in an approximate 40% market share. Overseeing this application at DOJ will be vigorous enforcer Deputy AG Hesse. As with AT&T, will the FCC and Department of Justice deny the Comcast merger, and in record time?
If AT&T is “red,” Comcast and Time Warner Cable are deep “blue.” In 2012, Comcast employees donated $465K to the Democrat National Committee vs. $114K to the Republican National Committee and supported Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by nearly four to one. Time Warner donations were $442K Obama and $28K Romney.
Comcast also has two Obama cronies working the merger. CEO Brian Robertsis an Obama golfing buddy whose political giving is 90% Democratic. Overseeing the merger is Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen.
Cohen and his wife have given upwards of $500K to Obama while raising another $2.2 million. During a Democrat fundraiser at Cohen’s hou se, President Obama quipped, “I have been here so much the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have Seder.”
Obama once publicly stated, “we’re gonna punish our enemies and … reward our friends.” Executive Branch action on the Comcast/Time Warner deal will demonstrate if this caveat applies to merger policy. A number of Congressional Committees will review the merger, including a Senate Judiciary hearing on April 9.
In addition to analyzing financial details of this merger, Administration history of crony capitalism screams for Congressional inquiry to determine if the Executive gives preferential treatment to corporations with friendly donors. Merger approval or denial should be based on objective analysis, not which political party enjoyed the loudest clink in its campaign jar.
If that’s the case, no matter what merger wins, consumers will always lose.
Kerri Toloczko is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy institute based in Fairfax, Virginia.