Republican Regulators' Philosophy: Help Companies, Then Work For Them

Another day, another Republican appointee slides through the revolving door between the bureaucracy and the industries they regulate. Only four months after successfully marshalling through a merger between Comcast and NBC Universal, FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is leaving her government post to work at the new company. The Hill writes:

During her term at the FCC, Baker was known for her strong free-market views, including her opposition to net-neutrality regulations. She voted yes to approving the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal earlier this year, subsequently calling for reform to the FCC's merger review process to prevent the agency from excessively conditioning such transactions.

Not only did she vote for the merger, Baker publicly criticized the process for being too slow. "The NBC/Comcast merger took too long, in my view," the New York Times quotes her saying in March to a group from the communications industry. "My concern is that you might walk away … and how many other consumer-enhancing and job-creating deals are not getting done today."

Baker's departure highlights Republicans' philosophy about government regulation. The FCC is tasked with protecting consumers -- not advocating for the industry they regulate. The FCC's strategic plan describes it as such: "Competition in the provision of communications services, both domestically and overseas, supports the Nation’s economy. The competitive framework for communications services should foster innovation and offer consumers reliable, meaningful choice in affordable services."

The FCC and other regulatory boards should take their time to fully consider how mergers could possibly diminish consumer trust, rather than rushing through the process as Baker suggested. The public cannot trust that its interests will be defended when government officials rush to private industry posts immediately after they hand down favorable rulings to those same groups. 

Luckily, new rules instituted by the Obama administration will limit the extent to which Baker can lobby the FCC in her new role as senior vice president of government affairs for NBC Universal. After signing an ethics pledge when she took her FCC job, Baker will be blocked from lobbying anyone at the FCC for two years and cannot lobby any political appointees at the FCC for the remainder of the Obama administration. Those restrictions restore some level of public trust, but do not go far enough. The rules are only regulations instituted by the government's chief executive. When the executive branch is controlled by someone else (whether that is in 2012 or 2016), those restrictions can be immediately overturned.

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