Only in Washington!
A mere four months after voting in favor of Comcast's controversial $13.75 billion purchase of NBC-Universal, Meredith Attwell Baker, the Republican commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, has decided to step down to take a top government affairs job at Comcast.
Good government watchdogs and bloggers can commence finger wagging, because Baker was one of four commissioners who endorsed the deal.
Moreover, not only did Baker give her approval, but as Ars Technica reports, she vigorously opposed any efforts to impose restrictions on the deal, noting the marriage would "bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms."
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For months leading up to the FCC's approval, consumer advocacy groups, lawmakers and rivals had argued that the merger would give Comcast disproportionate control of the media landscape.
Also of interest, is the fact that Baker did not wait until her term expired in June to announce her exit. Many commissioners leave the FCC to resume or take on work as Washington rainmakers or corporate executives, but they usually wait until their term has expired to make their plans known.
Prior to Wednesday's announcement, Baker was expected to be re-nominated to the post. Instead, her resignation will take effect on June 3.
Media advocacy group Free Press was quick to condemn Baker's move.
"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," Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement.
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Baker assumed the position of commissioner in July 2009, after being nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
At Comcast, Baker will serve as Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, NBCUniversal. She will be based in Washington, D.C.
Baker is subject to revolving door rules meant to serve as hurdles on the well-travelled road between government and lobbying. For instance, she will not be able to lobby the FCC for two years and will be prevented from lobbying members of the executive branch for the remainder of the Obama administration.
Despite criticism about a conflict of interest from public interest groups, FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski lauded Baker's service.
"Meredith’s wonderful spirit, broad experience and deep policy acumen have made the FCC a more effective agency. She’s made our decisions smarter and our policies better. I wish her well in her new role at NBC Universal,” Genachowski said in a statement.
Prior to taking the FCC position, Baker was with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversaw the transition to digital television.
"I depart most proud of our collective efforts to focus on long-term comprehensive spectrum reform. It is the most important step we can take to ensure our nation’s competitiveness in an increasingly interconnected world," Baker said in a statement announcing her resignation.
Baker's move into the private sector was hailed by another former government worker turned lobbyist, MPAA Chief Chris Dodd.
“Today, NBCUniversal gained a seasoned communications policy expert in Meredith Baker to lead its government relations team,” Senator Dodd said. “Her seven years working under two administrations – two years at the FCC and five at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – along with her prior career in the private sector working on telecommunications, intellectual property and international trade issues gives her the ideal insight to run NBCU’s DC operations.”
Left unmentioned in that endorsement, was that Dodd had once promised not to become a lobbyist after leaving the Senate.