Do you ever wonder why U.S. cable companies aren't more heavily regulated? One possible reason: Comcast and other telcos spent more on lobbying last year than the aerospace and real estate industries, according to Open Secrets.
It's no surprise that money buys political influence, but a recent report from Open Secrets, a non-partisan political research group, shows that Comcast and other cable, broadband, and wireless providers spent more than $88 million on lobbying in 2015. That sum is more than the similar spend of aerospace contractors, the real estate industry, and HMOs. And these U.S. telecommunications companies contributed heavily to the members of congress who regulate their industry. (Open Secrets is a project of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.)
Comcast a U.S. lobbying leader
Comcast topped the Open Secrets lobby list, and it spent $15.63 million on lobbying activities in 2015, more than tech giants Apple, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Intel. The only tech company that spent more on lobbying than Comcast was Google's parent company, Alphabet, which shelled out $16.66 million, according to a separate report by the non-partisan Consumer Watchdog consumer advocacy group.
"Money gets you face time with the people who make decisions," says Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog's president. "Because Comcast is a broadband provider, a cable company, and a content producer (it owns NBC and other networks) it faces regulations in many areas.”
Comcast's political agenda currently includes its opposition to net neutrality rules enacted last year by the FCC. It's unlikely that the commission will reverse its ruling, but lobbying dollars and campaign contributions from Comcast and others could help sway congress or the next U.S. president to overrule it.
During the current election cycle, Comcast and its fellow cable and wireless providers gave more money to Hillary Clinton (nearly $358,000) than to any other presidential candidate, according to Open Secrets. Jeb Bush is No. 2 on the list at $66,000, followed by Ted Cruz with $48,000. Clinton's Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, is sixth on the list, with contributions of nearly $20,000.
Big Cable cozies up to lawmakers
Two members of Congress with a good deal of influence over telecommunications policy also got lots of love (or at least lots of money) from Big Cable during the 2013-to-2014 election cycle. The industry contributed $419,350 to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who sat on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and it gave $177,300 to Rep. Greg Walden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Open Secrets places Comcast in the group it calls Telecom Services, which spent a total of $88 million on lobbying in 2015. The majority of top spenders in the group are cable companies, including the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cox Enterprises, and Dish Network.
Comcast is not partisan when it comes to seeking political influence. During 2015 and 2016, it has contributed a total of $1.34 million to political candidates, with about $798,000 going to Republicans and $539,000 to the Democrats, according to Open Secrets.
There's nothing illegal about what Comcast and its allies do with their lobbying dollars; all kinds of companies spend money on lobbying. It's up to you to decide if that's compatible with democracy. However, it's hard to believe that all the money spent cultivating politicians and regulators doesn't give telcos a significant advantage over consumers.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He writes the Tech's Bottom Line blog for InfoWorld, and his work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.