Awaiting Merger, Comcast Sponsors Event Honoring FCC Commissioner

The headquarters of Comcast, in Philadelphia, PA. Tom Mihalek/Reuters

As Comcast and Time Warner Cable await the FCC's approval of their merger, the two companies collectively donated $132,000 to a dinner honoring one of the agency's commissioners.

As Politico reported, this September, the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which, according to its mission statement, "seeks to advance the contributions of women and multi-ethnic professionals in cable," will honor FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at its annual dinner. Prior to joining the FCC in 2009, Clyburn was on the Public Service Commission of South Carolina and, before that, the publisher and general manager of the Coastal Times, a former Charleston-based newspaper that covered issues in the African American community.

Comcast said it had "long standing financial commitments" to the organization and the person being honored was irrelevant to that.

Each year, the dinner is supported by sponsors who give at various levels. The top sponsors this year were Comcast and Telemundo. The former contributed $110,000 to the dinner, which struck Carrie Levine, the research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, as odd. "They're honoring an FCC commissioner at the same time they're trying to get approval for a merger. And that doesn't look so good," she told Politico.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are currently awaiting approval from the FCC and the Justice Department for their $45 billion merger, which they first announced back in February. According to The New York Times, the merger would put 30 percent of the U.S. cable television market and 35.5 percent of its fixed high speed Internet market under Comcast's control. Critics of the merger worry that reducing competition in the already relatively low-competition cable and Internet markets will increase prices and decrease quality of service. Time Warner Cable also sponsored the dinner, giving a more modest $22,000.

However, according to donation figures provided to Newsweek by Comcast, the company's contribution to the dinner this year is the smallest it has been since it acquired NBC Universal in 2011. Last year, the company gave $140,000. It gave $145,000 and $122,500 in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

"We've given at the highest level for several years," the company wrote in a statement to Newsweek. "We are the industry leader—in our size and in our commitment to diversity—and it is important that we reflect that in our financial support of the Kaitz Foundation. As the industry has consolidated over time, especially after we became the largest operator in 2003, and then again with acquiring NBCUniversal in 2011, we've taken a larger role in giving to Kaitz."

"The identity of the honorees is irrelevant to our long standing financial commitments," the statement said. "We absolutely dispute the notion that our contributions have anything to do with currying favor with Commissioner Clyburn or any honoree. Such claims are insulting and not supported by any evidence. They are purely fiction."