Is Comcast Buying The Seattle Mayoral Election To Dodge Homegrown Competition? Not Really

The mayor of Seattle has alleged that Comcast donated significant sums to his rival ahead of the November 5 election. The money could have been donated, perhaps, in hopes of scuttling the planned public-private broadband initiative in the city that could introduce new inexpensive, and fast competitive service.

In response to a question during a Reddit AMA asking what would happen to the effort — which will likely be executed with a private firm by the name of Gigabit Squared — Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said, “I don’t know, but I do know Comcast gave [rival candidate] Murray a big pile of money.”

That’s a stark implication. The Washington Post reported on the situation, intimating as well that Comcast could be taking a financial interest in the outcome of the election, and therefore is donating to prevent its competitive landscape from becoming steeper.

Let’s be frank: Comcast wants less competition not more, as do all corporations. It also makes political donations, as do nearly all public companies. It also donates to specific candidates, over time, because it finds the views of those candidates more palatable to its interests and perhaps in hopes of swaying them slightly during their time in elected office.

That is simple politics. If any of that surprises you, you are a bit behind.

Comcast has donated to McGinn’s rival Ed Murray in the past through his tenure as a State Senator. So, the relationship is extant. This election cycle, Comcast has made a direct $700 donation to his campaign, and a Comcast executive named Janet Turpen also donated $500.

That sort of company-executive donation is not abnormal. For example, Yahoo and one of its executives have also donated to Murray’s mayoral electoral bid this cycle. No one is accusing Yahoo of attempting to buy a vote. Now, the Post goes on to list the following larger and less public donations by Comcast to groups that have put money behind Murray:

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. Unsurprisingly, People for Ed Murray has made significant expenditures supporting Murray’s candidacy. The Web site of the Broadband Communications Association of Washington also lists Janet Turpen as president-elect.

Comcast also donated $5,000 to the PAC called the “Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy,” or CASE, whose largest expenditures were donations to People for Ed Murray, to the tune of $52,500 — over half of the money spent by the group according to the most recent disclosures online. Their second largest expenditures was $10,000 to People for a New Seattle Mayor, a group opposing McGinn’s reelection.

So, $10,000. That’s hardly big money. Perhaps $10,000 speaks more loudly than what is normal in a mayoral election, but the sums here are not out of hand.

Comcast, in a statement provided to the Post, denied that it is trying to buy the election or unduly influence it. Which is what you would expect the company to say, of course. As a firm it is spending to have an impact. You don’t spend money for no reason, of course. Comcast is supporting Murray because it favors him over McGinn. And given that McGinn has worked on creating a competitor to Comcast, that is hardly surprising.

Still, what we lack in all of this a simple answer: Does Murray favor scrapping the public-private broadband pilot, and later the full project? That is not clear. The Post says this:

The [Murray] spokesman also committed that, if elected, Murray would honor the current agreements between Gigabit Squared and the city, “but he will also makes sure that the City monitors the company’s performance to ensure that they are delivering the promised results as the project moves forward.” In other words, the limited pilot project would likely go forward in a Murray administration, but there’s more of a question about whether the rest of Seattle would be offered gigabit service via a private-public partnership.

That strikes me as a bit weak. Could it be that Murray is less enthusiastic about the broadband initiative than McGinn? Sure. It’s not his project after all. But the intimation that Comcast is trying to shift the election perhaps to dodge this specific bit of competition feels like perhaps sensible speculation, but speculation all the same.

Murray can lay this all to rest by simply stating that he is committed to the project — if he is, of course. Simple speech is the best response to innuendo.

Top Image Credit: Flickr