Cable giant Comcast Corp. has hired Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker as senior vice president of government affairs for its NBCUniversal unit.
Baker, who will leave the FCC when her term expires in June, is the latest hire for Comcast, which has been beefing up its already formidable lobbying team since taking over NBCUniversal. Earlier this year, Comcast wooed National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. President Kyle McSlarrow away from the association to be president of Comcast/NBCUniversal Washington.
"Commissioner Baker is one of the nation's leading authorities on communications policy and we're thrilled she's agreed to head the government relations operations for NBCUniversal," McSlarrow said in a statement.
A Republican who served as a commissioner for nearly two years, Baker's hiring just a few months after voting in favor of Comcast's deal to acquire majority control of NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. raised eyebrows among some media watchdogs.
"This is just the latest — though perhaps most blatant — example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating," said Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of Free Press, a nonprofit media reform organization.
Not everyone took such a hard line.
"Commissioner Baker has been a consummate public servant," Media Access Project policy director Andrew Schwartzman said. "While her viewpoints have often differed from ours, she has always been open-minded, conscientious and dedicated to acting in the public interest as she saw it."
As for her move to Comcast, Schwartzman said in an email that he was "unhappy in a generic sense that the door revolves in Washington," but "this one is no different, and no worse, than what happens all the time."
It is not uncommon for government officials to end up working for companies that they used to regulate. Former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, for example, recently succeeded McSlarrow as head of the national cable association. Dick Wiley, an FCC chairman in the 1970s, went on to become one of the most powerful communications lawyers for the media and telecom industries in Washington.
There will be some restrictions on Baker's lobbying activities with Comcast and her old FCC bosses as well as with other administration officials.
Before her appointment to the FCC by President Obama, Baker was acting assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information, and acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under President George W. Bush.