As far as Comcast is concerned, there’s nothing improper about its hiring of Federal Communications Commission regulator Meredith Attwell Baker just four months after she voted to approve the Comcast-NBC Universal joint venture.
"Her ethics, her honesty, her integrity have never been questioned,” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said on Wednesday in a speech to the Media Institute, a non-profit communications industry group.
Baker is not only a “rare talent” but also beyond reproach on ethical matters, said Cohen, who appeared flustered that the first three audience questions were about Baker.
Comcast’s May 11 announcement that Baker will be joining the cable and entertainment giant as senior vice president of government affairs for NBC Universal brought swift rebukes from watchdog groups and The New York Times editorial board, which said her move fuels “cynicism” about government, and barbs from late-night comedian Jon Stewart, who poked fun on Monday evening's The Daily Show.
Baker, a Republican, backed the deal with three of the other four commissioners. Comcast approached her about the position in mid-April, well after the agency issued its January decision, she has said.
While much of the criticism has focused on the timing of the announcement, Cohen offered an explanation: the departure of longtime NBCU lobbyist Bok Okun created the opening that Baker was tapped to fill. “I understand the concerns that have been expressed. It is always a challenging personal issue” to figure out how to leave or enter government," he said.
Baker faces a two-year ban on lobbying the FCC but is not restricted from lobbying Congress. Baker said Friday that she has followed all applicable federal guidelines. “I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further,” she wrote. “I have not participated or voted on any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBC Universal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment.”
She joined the FCC on July 31, 2009.
Want the news first every morning? Sign up for National Journal’s Need-to-Know Memo. Short items to prepare you for the day.