A Comcast official said the political contributions were personal decisions and not actions taken through the cable company's political-action committee.
"Comcast's political giving is balanced nearly evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The personal contributions of our employees or members of their families are not controlled by the company and are at the discretion of the individual," Sena Fitzmaurice, vice president of government communications, said Friday. "Even so, our employees contribute to both Republicans and Democrats - including in presidential campaigns."
Though substantial, the Comcast political contributions were a small fraction of the $39 million that Obama raised over the six-month reporting period for the Obama Victory Fund. Obama is expected to eventually raise hundreds of millions of dollars by the time voters cast ballots in November 2012.
Dates of the Comcast-connected contributions, available on public filings at the Federal Election Commission, show they were made in May and June and were likely affected by a fund-raising dinner held in late June by David Cohen, a Comcast executive and influential Democrat. Obama attended the 120-person dinner in the backyard of Cohen's Mount Airy home.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics' database, the biggest Comcast donors, or those who "maxed-out" with $35,800 contributions, were not direct Comcast employees but two wives of Comcast executives, Gretchen Burke and Rhonda Cohen, and board member Jeffrey Honickman. Gretchen Burke is the wife of Stephen Burke, the new head of NBCUniversal. Rhonda Cohen is the wife of David Cohen, an executive vice president with responsibility for public and government affairs. David Cohen also contributed $15,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, bringing their total as a couple to $50,800. Cohen was not available for comment.
Besides his duties on the Comcast board, Honickman is president of Pepsi-Cola & National Brand Beverages Ltd., a Pennsauken bottling and distribution company. He was not available for comment Friday.
Neither Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts nor his wife, Aileen, were on the contributor list to the Obama Victory Fund, though they have a relationship with the president. The Robertses entertained Obama and aide Valerie Jarrett last month at their Martha's Vineyard mansion.
Obama officials described the Robertses as friends of Obama and Jarrett in an official statement in August and characterized the Vineyard event as an "informal reception." David Cohen also attended the reception.
The Federal Communications Commission, led by Obama-appointee Julius Genachowski, approved the $30 billion Comcast/NBCU transaction with conditions Jan. 18 after a long government review. The Department of Justice approved the deal that same day.
The relationship between the FCC, the chief regulator of telecommunications companies, and Comcast has improved from the Bush years when Kevin Martin headed the agency. Martin publicly bashed Comcast's cable TV rates.
More than most companies, Comcast - the nation's largest provider of cable TV and residential Internet - has a full plate of issues pending in Washington that could affect its business.
"Comcast has become more and more active in politics. They've been donating more, they've been lobbying more, and these donations are part of that," said the Center for Responsive Politics spokesman Michael Beckel. "They are incredibly interested and invested in the political future of Barack Obama. . . . It is the way the American politics game is played. It only becomes unseemly if there is a quid pro quo."
Joel Kelsey, the political director at the nonprofit group Free Press, a frequent Comcast critic, said: "Comcast is a company that knows its way around D.C. . . . They are willing to pay large sums of money to get their way in Washington, but that does not make them any different than most large companies."
Obama's success at Comcast this year is a stark contrast with the last presidential election cycle. Before Obama emerged as the front-runner then, the leading Democratic choice, based on contributions from employees and those associated with Comcast, was Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the favored Republican was Mitt Romney, according to data at the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2007, Clinton received $86,950 from those individuals compared with Obama's $37,700. During the same period, Romney received $46,500 compared with Sen. John McCain's $40,450.
Besides those who contributed the maximum to the Obama Victory Fund this year, there were others who were generous. Suzanne Roberts, the wife of Comcast cofounder Ralph Roberts and Brian's mother, contributed $10,000. Sheldon Bonovitz, the chairman emeritus of the Duane Morris L.L.P. law firm and Comcast board member, contributed $20,000. He could not be reached for comment.
Joe Waz, a recently retired Comcast executive in government affairs, contributed $10,000. Kathryn Zachem, senior vice president in regulatory affairs, gave $10,000. Charisse R. Lille, the president of Comcast Foundation in Philadelphia, contributed $20,000.
Technically a joint fund-raising committee, the Obama Victory Fund splits contributions between Obama and the Democratic National Committee. Those who gave the maximum had their funds divided this way: $5,000 to Obama, and $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, Beckel said.
The emerging Republican field of presidential candidates did not seem to excite those at Comcast earlier this year. Employees - or those associated with the company - contributed $5,000 each during the reporting period to the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty has pulled out of the race.
Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer Michael Matza contributed to this article.