While it aims to receive government approval for its proposed NBC Universal joint venture, Comcast increased its federal lobbying expenditures by 24% in the second quarter. The $3.8 million investment paid outside firms and covered its own activities as it looked to gain influence from the FCC to the White House, government records show.
While Comcast's battalion of 28 lobbying firms also handled other matters, 22 listed the NBCU initiative as an issue worked on. Comcast's own Washington lobbying team spent time on the merger, as well as other concerns, including Net neutrality and retrans consent.
Over the first six months of the year, Comcast spent $6.9 million -- up 14% over 2009. Comcast's quarterly lobbying expenditures go up and down. At the end of 2008, for example, it spent nearly as much as the $3.8 million in the second quarter.
A Comcast representative said challenges related to getting the merger approved have not been a factor in the recent increased spending, noting that there are other issues affecting the cable company. Comcast rivals Time Warner Cable and DirecTV spent $1.4 million and $1 million, respectively, lobbying in the recent quarter.
In the second quarter, among Comcast's outside firms, six said they spent time lobbying the FCC. And three, including the prominent Duberstein Group, listed the White House as a target.
The Duberstein Group -- headed by former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein, who backed President Obama in 2008 -- listed the NBCU merger as the only issue it worked on for Comcast in the quarter, collecting $90,000. Mitch Rose Strategic Consulting was paid $67,500 to work solely on the merger, according to federal filings.
Comcast and NBCU parent General Electric need to secure approval from both the FCC and the Department of Justice, which is part of the executive branch, but is supposed to act without White House influence.
Showing how much Comcast is running the PR and lobbying efforts behind the proposed merger, General Electric spent a total of $8.3 million on lobbying in the second quarter -- with only a small percentage focused on the deal. It did pay former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt's firm about $150,000 to focus on the issue.
Well over half of the $3.8 million Comcast spent in the April-June period funded the lobbying operations of its own in-house team, which has seven lobbyists listed. Its outside firms were paid between $10,000 and $110,000 during the quarter, the high point to the firm led by former Congressman William Gray, a Democrat.
Many of the firms appear to be on retainer; their compensation was comparable to a year ago, before the merge was announced.