Baker Defends Her Decision To Leave Commission for Comcast

Keep up with the latest developments and legal issues in the telecommunications and emerging technology sectors, with exclusive access to a comprehensive collection of telecommunications law news,...

Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker May 13 defended her decision to leave the agency for a job in the Washington offices of Comcast Corp., saying in a statement that she complied with all the relevant ethics rules.

Baker was noticeably absent from a May 13 House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing after departing the commission just two days earlier.

“Until late this spring, my plan was to seek re-nomination for a second term as commissioner,” Baker said. “That was true all through the winter during consideration of the Comcast-NBC Universal transaction and in the months after it was completed.”

“Not once in my entire tenure as a commissioner had anyone at Comcast or NBC Universal approached me about potential employment,” she added. “When this opportunity became available in mid-April, I made a personal decision that I wanted to give it serious consideration.”

Baker, the junior Republican member of the commission, announced her resignation May 11. To adhere with ethics rules, Baker officially recused herself on April 18 from any matters involving Comcast or NBC Universal, she said.

Her official title will be senior vice president of government affairs for NBC Universal. She will report to Kyle McSlarrow, recently hired by Comcast, who lobbied her offices as the president and chief executive officer of National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Issa 'Monitoring Situation.'

In a statement e-mailed to BNA, a spokesperson for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the congressman is aware of the situation and will continue to monitor it.

The public-interest group Free Press has called on Issa to investigate Baker's move to Comcast. Free Press has blasted Baker for taking the job months after voting to approve the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal and then shortly thereafter delivering a speech that criticized the agency for taking too long to review the deal. Free Press described Baker's departure as the “latest but perhaps most blatant example of so-called ’public servants' cashing in on companies they are supposed to be regulating.”

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron late May 13 expressed disappointment that the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee did not question the commissioners about the situation.

“It is stunning that at a hearing about reforming the FCC no member of Congress raised the topic of Commissioner Baker's recent rush through the revolving door into the open arms of Comcast,” Aaron said. “How can Congress preach transparency and accountability while willfully ignoring Commissioner Baker's scandalous departure and absence at today's hearing?”

In a statement circulated at the hearing, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) joined in chiding Baker for the move to Comcast.

“FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker's announcement today that she will resign from the commission to lobby for Comcast NBC, mere months after casting her yes vote to approve the merger, further confirms my suspicion that the FCC's merger review--in cooperation with the Department of Justice--was overly politicized and rammed through in blatant disregard for the agency’s responsibility to the America people,” Waters said.

By Paul Barbagallo

Request Tech & Telecom on Bloomberg Law