updated 07:10 pm EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Companies withdraw contributions after watch dog group call the donations suspect
Comcast and Time Warner Cable have withdrawn contributions to the Kaitz Dinner, a yearly event that celebrates diversity in the cable industry. News of the funding removal came after the Citizens of Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) objected to the contributions, as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was being honored with an award at the event.
The dinner is put on by the Walter Kaitz Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that promotes diversity in the cable industry, including the roles of women and multi-ethnic professionals. The dinner often brings in the majority of funding for the foundation, which is then used to seek added diversity, some of which is channeled through three organizations. For this year's dinner scheduled for September 17, Commissioner Clyburn is being honored with a "diversity advocate" award.
Funding by the two cable companies, who are currently seeking approval for a merger, was seen as questionable -- since a member of the FCC was tied to the event. As CREW put it, "using honorary contributions to lawmakers and regulators' favored charities to curry favor is one of the more under-the-radar moves in Comcast's merger playbook -- a playbook that also emphasizes lobbying, campaign contributions, and winning support from third-party groups, especially those representing minorities."
CREW called foul on both companies, as it seems that Comcast and Time Warner Cable made sizable donations in different ways. It appears that Time Warner Cable made a donation in Clyburn's honor to the tune of $22,000 in May, also earning them a "benefactor" title for the event. Comcast gave the foundation $110,000 to be a "presenting sponsor." It was previously reported by the Washington Post that Clyburn obtained the appropriate approval needed to attend the dinner.
Politico reports today that both cable companies have asked that the contributions to the dinner be removed. Previously, it was stated that the contributions were something the companies had done for years, but in light of the situation they decided to change the contributions to be of a more general capacity.
Comcast wrote a letter to the Walter Kaitz Foundation, obtained by Politico, which states the company is withdrawing support for the dinner. Charisse Lillie, the vice president of community investment for Comcast, requested that "there be no recognition of Comcast at the dinner." Even though the contribution was agreed upon in 2013 before any honorees were mentioned, Comcast didn't want to penalize the foundation in the process. Instead, the $110,000 would be an "unrestricted donation to the Kaitz Foundation."
Time Warner Cable withdrew their support by telephone, said spokesman Bobby Amirshahi. In a statement to Politico, he said that it was unfortunate that the sponsorship was "mischaracterized by a few." He added that Time Warner Cable wouldn't be seen as a sponsor of the event, but the funding would be converted into unrestricted funds.