Today’s Washington Post runs an expose on Comcast’s politically connected hires in Maryland, which raises eyebrows as to whether or not potential competitors can get a fair deal in the state. The most prominent of these hires is none other than Governor Ehrlich’s wife who hosts a program that is only available as a pay-per-view selection and appears to be of little to no programming value. Another factor that should make consumers and those who care about good government shudder is the manner in which the relationship with Comcast and Ehrlich’s wife has been handled:
In June 2003, when the governor vetoed a bill that would have stopped Comcast and other companies from shifting the state tax burden to Delaware holding companies, the advocacy group Progressive Maryland publicly questioned whether the first lady's job posed a conflict. The governor's office dismissed the allegation.
Soon after, a pregnant Kendel Ehrlich announced she was leaving Comcast to have her second son. There was no public announcement when she returned, but her salaried job as a "production manager" reappears on her husband's disclosure forms for 2004. She is not required to disclose how much she is being paid and would not say, when asked.
The full article details a case in Prince George’s County, MD where cable competitor StarPower was applying for a franchise and found itself on the receiving end of a 11th hour demand for $400,000 improvements that ultimately snuffed out StarPower’s application. The County Executive at the time was Wayne Curry, Jr., who now consults for Comcast.
The stories continue: the University of Maryland Board of Regents where a string of well connected folks have dual roles as Regents and employees of Comcast or firms that have Comcast as a client. This little trick stood out for me:
Another regent, lawyer Leronia A. Josey, found an unusual way to satisfy the ethics requirement when Burch contacted her about a job in 2000, one year after she had joined the board.
"I had to resign, and then I was reappointed," Josey said, describing the maneuver that allowed her to become a regional director of government and community relations. The former regent, who now consults with Comcast, said she did not even miss a meeting.
I suspect there may be many more stories like this across the country. Does your local cable provider have “interesting” relationships with your city, county or state elected officials?