National Journal

Comcast is proud of the millions of dollars it donates every year to charities and nonprofit groups. Now, those groups are paying back Comcast's generosity by supporting its bid to buy Time Warner Cable.

Nine United Way chapters, 12 Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters, 25 Boys & Girls Club chapters, and 14 Urban League chapters all filed comments urging the Federal Communications Commission to approve the merger of the nation's two largest cable providers. Comcast is a major donor to all four organizations.

The company also received support from diversity groups such as the NAACP, the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, the Latin American Association, the National Congress of Black Women, the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, 100 Black Men of America, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Many of the groups explicitly pointed to Comcast's support (through corporate donations and employee volunteering) as the reason for supporting the deal.

"We believe that a company as committed to community service as Comcast deserves our support and our gratitude," wrote Joseph and Lisabeth Marziello, the CEOs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, in a letter to the FCC. "We are confident that if Comcast extends its footprint into the areas now served by Time Warner Cable, nonprofit agencies in those communities will reap the benefits."

Rosie Allen-Herring, the president and CEO of the United Way of the National Capital Area, urged the FCC to approve the deal so that other communities have the "chance to benefit from the strong corporate partnerships and initiatives that Comcast has to offer."

Others pointed to Comcast's Internet Essentials program, which provides low-cost Internet service to poor families. Comcast agreed to offer the program to convince regulators to let it buy NBC-Universal in 2011.

But not all nonprofit groups support the $45 billion deal. An array of public-interest advocates are urging the FCC to reject the merger, warning it would give Comcast unprecedented control over the Internet and cable TV.

Matt Wood, the policy director for advocacy group Free Press and an opponent of the deal, applauded Comcast for giving generously to many causes but argued that additional donations shouldn't be tied to buying Time Warner Cable.

Asking nonprofit groups to write letters of support is "good politics" for Comcast, Wood said, because it gives the merger a "public-interest veneer."

But he argued the nonprofit groups are focusing too narrowly on corporate donations and are not looking at how the deal would hurt consumers. "I don't know how much they've analyzed the loss of innovation and competition that we think a merger would be certain to cause," Wood said.

A Comcast spokesman said the company is "proudly committed to our local communities" and works closely with many nonprofit groups on efforts such as raising awareness about the Internet Essentials program.

"We have long histories with many of these groups working with them to improve the communities where our customers and our employees live and work," the company spokesman said.

Supporting corporate mergers has backfired for some nonprofit groups. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, faced a major backlash from its supporters after the group sent a letter supporting AT&T's bid to buy T-Mobile in 2011.

Gay bloggers and advocates ridiculed the letter, and the controversy ultimately led to the resignation of GLAAD's president and six of its board members.

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