Inquirer Editorial: Switching sides

Posted: May 14, 2011

While there's nothing illegal about a Federal Communications Commission member taking a job with a company whose multibillion-dollar merger she recently voted to approve, it probably wouldn't pass a consumers' sniff test.

Meredith Attwell Baker, one of two Republican FCC commissioners, will leave the agency to become senior vice president for governmental affairs for NBCUniversal. The wife of the son of former White House chief of staff James Baker will be based in Washington and report to recently named Comcast/NBCUniversal president Kyle McSlarrow. He previously lobbied Baker and the FCC in his former job as president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Baker signed an Obama administration ethics pledge upon joining the FCC in 2009, so she is barred from lobbying the regulatory agency for two years. She is also banned from lobbying other political appointees at the FCC, and faces a lifetime prohibition on lobbying any executive-branch agency. That's a condition Comcast agreed to as part of its merger approval, a process Baker criticized as being overly restrictive.

Those restrictions may hardly matter, though, since Baker can lobby members of Congress at will.

During the FCC's consideration of the marriage of Comcast and NBCUniversal, Baker coauthored a brief calling the agency's approach to merger reviews "excessively coercive and lengthy." She also said the FCC's "review exceeded its limited statutory bounds." Not exactly the comments consumers wanted to hear.

But Baker's new gig is just the latest manifestation of the revolving door that has been turning for years to allow government officials of both major parties to find jobs as private-industry lobbyists.

Former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut recently took over the helm of the Motion Picture Association of America, after publicly pledging he would not become a lobbyist.

Still, there's something particularly unsettling about a regulatory official who voted only four months ago to approve the $13.75 billion merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal turning around to take a high-profile job with that firm. It's troubling even to those of us who were happy to see locally based Comcast bring home the gold.

Perhaps if Baker had put more time between her two jobs it wouldn't seem as bad. As it is, the move threatens to further undermine public confidence in the government's ability to make objective decisions that put ordinary citizens' interests first. It would be good to see Comcast/NBCUniversal help to dispel that notion.

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