The emerging public discussion over the proposed Comcast-Time Warner $45.2 billion merger is shedding new light on Washington’s corporatist governing ideology. An ideology that, to paraphrase Ayn Rand, rewards those who deal, not in goods, but in favors, and creates laws that protect special interests at the expense of taxpayers and consumers.
President Obama and his allies bash “big business” during the day while executives and lobbyists shower the president and members of Congress with campaign contributions and corporate largesse by night. Comcast, which owns the liberal MSNBC network, is one of the biggest special interests in Washington.
The idea that big business is synonymous with free markets is the left’s most fantastic invention, and one they have successfully leveraged to grow government and to benefit certain politically well-connected “big business” interests. Corporatism advances the lobbying and consulting class at the expense of everyday Americans and their economic liberty.
The president’s economic policies, what the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney coined Obamanomics, betray an unmistakable pattern in which corporate friends of Barack (CFOBs) get rich by receiving special treatment. Recall Solyndra, Pfizer, the United Auto Workers, Goldman Sachs, and other CFOBs who have benefited from this administration’s cronyism. These corporatist policies have ushered in an unprecedented age of hyper-lobbying that promotes partial and partisan interests — saving Wall Street bankers, a failed stimulus package, an auto bailout for union control, the Obamacare fiasco, green energy boondoggles — that President Obama scorned before he entered the White House.
In this age of crony corporatism, policymakers must make a measured examination of the Comcast-Time Warner merger. One of the nation’s leading minds on antitrust issues, Irwin M. Stelzer, wrote this week in the Weekly Standard that “the Comcast-Time Warner combination deserves close scrutiny.” And, “If spending and hiring politically connected insiders constitutes clout, Comcast has that in spades … there is much to suggest that this merger is about as anticompetitive, and therefore as anticonsumer, as one can get.” Comcast employs an army of lobbyists to push through its legislative and regulatory agenda — over one hundred lobbyists in total, more than double its contingent of forty-two in 2003, including no fewer than five former members of Congress.
With its enormous presence and network of relationships, no corporation leverages the fabric of what goes on in Washington better than Comcast. Its chief lobbyist David Cohen raised $1.44 million for the president’s reelection campaign in 2011 and 2012, and $2.22 million since 2007. The president has been to the Cohen home so frequently that President Obama told guests at a November fundraiser that “I have been here so much, the only thing I haven’t done in this house is have seder dinner.”
Everyday Americans struggle to pay their mortgages, put their children through school, and keep groceries in their cupboards. The economy is stalled and our nation is in the worst “economic recovery” in our history. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there are nearly 92 million Americans out of the workforce, the lowest labor force participation since 1978. Also for the first time in our history, working-age people now make up the majority of American households that depend on food stamps, a dramatic change from a just a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.
While record numbers of Americans are unemployed, underemployed, and receiving government subsidies, the Washington DC area has become the wealthiest region in the country. Why? The federal government with its lobbyist and consultant class was the only major part of the economy that grew during the recession, and it continues to grow even as the economic recovery falters. Comcast has been a beneficiary of the growth and wealth in Washington. Policymakers, especially President Obama’s hyper-partisan Department of Justice, have a duty to scrutinize Comcast’s play for Time Warner to ensure that its web of influence, generous campaign contributions, and 100-strong lobbying army of former lawmakers, Congressional aides, and regulatory agency officials do not fast track the merger approval. And Congress must also review this proposed merger to ensure that it is fairly evaluated by an administration that is notorious for politicizing the DOJ.
The impact of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger on all consumers should be debated, but policymakers cannot politicize the review process and make policy decisions based on political contributions, cronyism, or narrow interests. The rule of law and the public good must win the day.
Jerry Rogers and Andrew Langer are respectively Vice President for Advancement and President of the Institute for Liberty.