Late Wednesday night, it was revealed that Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker was leaving her post to become one of Comcast’s head lobbyists. This comes just four months after she voted to approve that company’s massive takeover of NBC-Universal. And now it seems that Congress is paying attention.
Since the news broke, public outcry has been deafening. In less than twenty-four hours, tens of thousands of people have written Congress calling for an investigation and press reports have piled up, raising a long list of questions about how this deal went down and the obvious conflicts of interest Baker’s new job implies.
At first, Baker avoided the spotlight, and seemed to be avoiding her duties as an FCC Commissioner as well. Yesterday, she ducked a public meeting at the FCC, and was a no-show at a congressional hearing today. Finally, the Wall Street Journal was able to track her down, and she boldly defended her decision to work for one of the biggest companies she used to regulate. “I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further,” Baker boasted. “I have not participated or voted on any item, not just those related to Comcast or NBCUniversal, since entering discussions about an offer of potential employment.” That’s right, for more than a month she negotiated a deal with Comcast while filling a seat at the FCC, ignoring the business of the agency and people she was appointed to serve.
Baker’s assertion that she has “complied with the legal and ethical laws” points to a bigger issue than this one case. The revolving door between big business and federal agencies (not to mention Congress itself) has fundamentally corrupted policymaking in America. A New York Times editorial this morning puts the Baker-Comcast scandal into perspective:
“Ms. Baker’s swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans’ cynicism about their government. The fact that it is legal and that she is just one of many doesn’t make it better. Over a third of the 120 lawmakers who left Congress after the last election have taken lobbying jobs, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics.”
The Times editorial board called for Congress to strengthen the laws that regulate lobbying.
Commissioner Baker’s move may be the push Congress needs to take a fresh look at these issues. After thousands of Free Press members signed a letter to him, a spokeswoman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, confirmed that they are looking into Baker’s move to Comcast. Sara Jerome of The Hill, reports that Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) also promised to review the broader laws, quoting his communications director, "She may have acted completely in the right, but being legal doesn't make it right."
At a time when trust in our government is at an all-time low, we should support common-sense lobbying laws that would close the revolving door and ensure that policymaking serves real Americans around the country, not just big businesses who can buy influence inside the Beltway.