Saturday, March 2, 2024

A literal revolving door in Washington, D.C., at the Willard InterContinental Washington Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Photo: Robert Couse-Baker)

The mind reels. Coincidentally, it reels in perfect synchronicity with the revolving door in Washington, D.C, where an FCC commissioner has accepted a job with Comcast — less than four months after voting to approve its merger with NBC Universal.

The soon-to-ex-commissioner is Meredith Attwell Baker, a Republican from Texas.

She’ll be leaving the Federal Communications Commission next month, when her term ends, taking a spin through that door and sitting down almost immediately in what is surely the plushest of leather seats behind the desk belonging to NBC Universal’s “senior vice president for governmental affairs.” That’s perfect: Although she signed an ethics pledge upon her appointment by President Barack Obama two years ago that complicates or slows her lobbying co-workers at the FCC or other agencies, she’s free to go after members of Congress.

The job swapping between politics and lobbying happens with such regularity that it takes something extraordinary to draw the kind of attention Attwell Baker is sure to get, if only because it also focuses attention on Obama the president, who’s probably smacking his forehead or grinding his teeth in remembrance of Obama the candidate swearing to “close the revolving door.”

Instead he’s inadvertently given the world a new standard for sleaze.

Chris Dodd going to the MPAA in March, only two months after leaving the U.S. Senate (but more than a year after saying he wouldn’t seek re-election), seemed as much of a foregone conclusion without being much of a shock. Democrat Dodd, after all, once dated Carrie Fisher; he’s buddies with Lorne Michaels, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and when debating whether to take a job fighting Hollywood’s battles, he turned to Warren Beatty for advice.

But his political career lasted three decades and had little to do with Hollywood, while Attwell Baker was in office for a couple of years and her legacy included fighting against Net neutrality — Comcast is the nation’s largest provider of residential broadband Internet — and for the Comcast merger. (It was a 4-1 vote, with only Democrat Michael Copps resisting.)

You’d have to go back to Billy Tauzin to find a deal that stank as much.

Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican, was a driving force behind the passage of the Medicare Act of 2003, which critics said was a giveaway of billions a year to the pharmaceuticals industry. So even cherry flavoring couldn’t cover the ugly taste of negotiations between the PhRMA industry group and Tauzin even as President George W. Bush signed the bill, and a couple of years later he was made president of the lobbying group.

Tauzin’s legislation was reputed to be worth $1.2 trillion to the pharmaceuticals industry, and the Comcast-NBC Universal merger was only a $30 billion deal. Attwell Baker, then, has set a new standard only in speed and brazenness.

“No wonder the public is so nauseated by business as usual in Washington — where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a nonprofit media reform group. “We hope — but won’t hold our breath — that her replacement will be someone who is not just greasing the way for their next industry job.”

Michael Powell, former chairman of the FCC, was quick to offer praise, though, in a statement released Wednesday with alarming promptness. “Meredith has been a great friend for many years and an outstanding public servant, as she has served with honor and integrity,” said Powell, who after his time with the FCC became president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, an industry lobbyist.