On August 26th of last year, David L. Cohen, a Comcast Executive Vice President, joyously announced that the cable giant’s controversial proposed merger with Time Warner had generated a frenzy of supportive letters to the Federal Communications Commission from nearly 70 mayors and dozens of other state and local officials. In particular, Cohen singled out a letter from one of the country’s most high-profile mayors.
“We’re proud to have the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who praised Comcast’s acclaimed Internet Essentials program and the increased investment and faster Internet speeds that the transaction will bring in his letter,” Cohen wrote, referring partly to Comcast’s discounted services for low-income customers. Emanuel’s letter, submitted to federal regulators just days before, was indeed glowing. The mayor asserted his belief that the proposed merger would not reduce consumer choice or drive up prices (a primary concern of the proposal’s critics), before launching into breathless praise of the company’s charitable activity in Chicago.
“Comcast currently makes considerable contributions in Chicago,” Emanuel writes, “and we expect those contributions to continue—and increase—if the proposed combination is approved.”
The authorship of Emanuel’s letter, however, may be more complex than meets the eye. Before Emanuel wrote to federal regulators, Comcast appears to have furnished the mayor with some writing assistance in the form of suggested language—and perhaps even a whole first draft—regarding his FCC letter. When The Nation submitted a FOIA request to his office requesting any records of suggested language or any Comcast-supplied draft, the mayor’s office responded that such a communication does indeed exist. It is refusing, however, to turn over the Comcast document, citing a state law that allows the withholding of preliminary drafts, suggestions, notes and communications in which opinions are expressed or actions or policies are formulated.
Emanuel’s office also would not respond to questions The Nation originally sent more than four weeks ago—and followed up on several times—that asked whether Comcast had helped draft Emanuel’s letter to the FCC. As long as this record is withheld, any definitive knowledge of the extent to which Emanuel’s letter used corporate lobbying language will likely remain a secret between the mayor’s office and Comcast. Emanuel is just days away from a hotly contested runoff election against progressive challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
“It’s unfortunate that the mayor’s office is trying to avoid transparency,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director for Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that advocates for government accountability and opposes Comcast’s proposed merger. “FOIA laws should be serving the public interest—they should be vehicle to inform the public not a vehicle for politicians to find loopholes to hide the truth.”