We'll acknowledge at the outset that local politics has long been the domain of the community's wealthiest members, for a variety of reasons. But now national players are increasingly stepping into smaller scale races. From the Koch brother-funded Americans For Prosperity pushing city council candidates in Iowa, as reported on Monday by The New York Times, to wealthy Californians trying to hide their anti-tax efforts in the state, the rich are working to protect profits, establish precedent — and play a long game with an eye toward the presidency.
The latest reports are much more subtle than the one that raised eyebrows last week — but are more representative of the shift in strategy. That report, The Washington Post detailing how Comcast was investing heavily in the mayor's race in Seattle, was pretty straightforward. The company's wasn't to ensure that the light rail gets expanded or to repave 4th Avenue. Comcast would prefer that the incumbent mayor, Mike McGinn, not win reelection, probably because McGinn has been pushing for widely available fiber optic internet access. It's a plan about which McGinn's main opponent, Ed Murray, is less enthusiastic — and which Comcast, which would be competing against in the market, is presumably even less so. Especially if their campaign spending is any guide.
Comcast's donations to political action committees (PACs) suggest Comcast has poured dramatically more resources into defeating McGinn. The Broadband Communications Association of Washington PAC, which received 94 percent of its 2013 contributions from Comcast, donated $5,000 to the group People for Ed Murray less than a month after Gigabit Squared's pricing announcement. That was the PAC's largest single donation.
This is fairly traditional political influence. Company gives to PAC, PAC spends against candidate. States and municipalities have various rules governing how companies can make contributions and how those contributions are reported, but this is one of the more common ways companies influence politics, separating the PAC from the company itself. That has the negative side effect of making donations traceable back to the companies, as Comcast and other companies have discovered. (When asked by the Post, the cable outlet denied trying to block the fiber optic roll-out.)