UPDATE 2-FCC's Baker leaving to lobby for Comcast/NBCU

Thu May 12, 2011 3:43am IST

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* Second high-profile hire for company

* Public interest group not happy with "revolving door"

* Baker cannot lobby FCC during Obama administration (Adds details on lobbying rules)

By Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON, May 11 (Reuters) - Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker will leave the agency for a new post at Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O).

Comcast said on Wednesday that Baker will join the company as senior vice president of government affairs for NBC Universal.

The Republican commissioner will be lobbying for a unit that she, along with three of the four other FCC members, voted to allow Comcast to acquire four months ago.

The FCC and the Justice Department approved Comcast's $13.75 billion purchase of a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co (GE.N) in January.

The announcement marks the second high-profile hire for Comcast; it snagged Kyle McSlarrow, former head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, as president of Comcast/NBCUniversal for Washington, D.C.

Baker, who will leave the FCC on June 3, also will be the second former communications regulator to shift to lobbying for the industry they once regulated. Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell joined cable TV's lobbying arm in March as president and chief executive of NCTA, replacing McSlarrow.

Public interest group Free Press blasted Baker's move to Comcast as the latest and possibly most blatant "example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating."

"The continuously revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy," said Craig Aaron, head of Free Press.

But Baker will not be able to lobby the FCC for some time. An executive order, known as the Obama Ethics Pledge, bans political appointees who took their post on or after Jan. 20, 2009, from lobbying any executive branch officials or appointees for the length of the Obama administration.

Baker joined the FCC in July 2009, so will be subject to this mandate, which extends revolving door rules beyond the previous one year ban on direct lobbying.

She will also be barred from ever contacting the FCC on any matters concerning the Comcast/NBCU transaction, such as the enforcement or modification of conditions placed on the merger.

Baker will report to McSlarrow in her new role and work closely with NBC Universal executives who set the company's policy direction. She replaces Bob Okun, who is leaving to start his own government affairs firm.

Baker's term at the FCC will expire at the end of June, but she had been expected to be renominated.

The five-person FCC will be left with just one Republican on the panel until a replacement is nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate.

The agency could be left with a three-person panel by the end of the year if replacements are not confirmed speedily; Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, previously said he would not seek renomination.

"It creates a little bit of risk and uncertainty," Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva said of the prospects for the agency's agenda items, including approval of AT&T Inc's (T.N) $39-billion bid for Deutsche Telekom AG's (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile USA.

Silva said the departure may not change the ultimate outcome of the FCC's decision to approve or deny the merger. "But if there was any chance of a deal being cleared by the end of the year, this extinguishes that possibility," he said. (Reporting by Jasmin Melvin, editing by Bernard Orr)

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