Meredith Attwell Baker
|Meredith Attwell Baker|
|Federal Communications Commission|
July 31, 2009 – June 3, 2011
|Born||July 5, 1968|
|Alma mater||Washington & Lee University (B.A.)
University of Houston (J.D.)
Meredith Attwell Baker was a member of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In mid-May 2011, she announced that she was taking a job with Comcast, effective June 3, 2011, instead of completing her term on June 30. The change, so soon after approving the Comcast NBC merger, garnered significant criticism and a possible House investigation concerning the "revolving door" between the regulator and the regulated.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 3 Personal life
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Early life and education
Baker is a native of Houston, Texas, but has spent much of her life in the District of Columbia. She was an exchange student during high school, attending a semester at Sidwell Friends School. (Coincidentally, she stayed with the family of Edward Lazarus, who was Chief of Staff during her partial term at the FCC.)
Her father, Kirby Attwell, is well known in Houston. He was president of Lincoln Liberty Life Insurance, a subsidiary of Lincoln Consolidated, where he worked with the late former Texas Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Her great-great grandfather was Isaac Van Zandt, a political leader in the Republic of Texas, who was appointed Chargé d'Affaires to the United States from 1842 to 1845 in D.C. The Attwells have been long-time friends of the Baker and Bush political families.
She studied journalism and Spanish at the private Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. After graduation in 1990, she was hired at the legislative affairs office of the State Department in D.C. during the administration of President George H. W. Bush (where her future father-in-law was then Secretary of State James A. Baker III).
Baker left to attend the University of Houston's law school, graduating in 1994. While there, she worked at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas.
After several years at the law firm of DeLange and Hudspeth in Houston, where Baker focused on corporate and bankruptcy law, she returned to D.C. She followed Steven Barry, her boss at the State Department, to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) as "director of congressional affairs" from 1998 to 2000. Then, she became senior counsel to Covad Communications from 2000 to 2002, and briefly one of the vice presidents at the lobbying firm of Williams Mullen Strategies.
In January 2004, Baker joined the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as a political appointee, and was subsequently named a deputy assistant secretary of the Commerce Department by President George W. Bush in February 2007. After the November resignation of John Kneuer (less than a year after he started the job) to join Rivada Networks as "senior vice president for strategic planning and external affairs" (a revolving door euphemism for "lobbyist"), she filled vacancies as acting assistant secretary for Communications and Information and acting administrator of the NTIA. She was not confirmed for these positions. Neil Patel, an aide to then Vice President Dick Cheney, was nominated instead, but the Senate never acted upon the nomination.
She supported Comcast against the FCC during the network neutrality conflict. Comcast arbitrarily blocked transmission of peer-to-peer and collaborative software content, such as BitTorrent, Gnutella, Lotus Notes, and Google applications.
She was associated with problems during the transition to digital television, as her administration imposed restrictive time limits on consumer participation and drastically underestimated the amount of funding that would be needed.
Baker was nominated for a Republican seat on the FCC by President Barack Obama on June 25, 2009. After the nomination was paired with Mignon Clyburn for the Democratic seat to avoid controversy, she was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on July 24, 2009, and sworn in as Commissioner on July 31, 2009. According to the Associated Press, Baker was "a reliable pro-business voice who frequently expressed concern that the agency was imposing unnecessary and onerous regulations on phone and cable companies." She opposed network neutrality a position shared by the cable and telephone industry. In March 2011, she stated that the review of the Comcast NBC merger "took too long" and there were too many conditions forced on Comcast, including accountability for access and services such as Netflix and YouTube.
In mid-May 2011, four months after voting to support the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal, Baker prematurely accepted a job with Comcast as "senior vice president of governmental affairs for NBC Universal" beginning June 3, although her term did not complete until the end of June.
Baker said the "opportunity became available in mid-April." She continued, "I have not only complied with the legal and ethical laws, but I also have gone further", emphasizing, "I want people to understand that I haven't done anything wrong." The president of Comcast said her "executive branch and business experience along with her exceptional relationships in Washington bring Comcast and NBCUniversal the perfect combination of skills." Another Comcast executive said this event would not become national news, describing it as "chatter", in spite of the extensive national coverage to date, said The Hill. He described Baker as "one of those people that actually takes ethical responsibilities seriously."
The FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, said, "I wish her well in her new role at NBC Universal"; whereas fellow commissioner Michael J. Copps, who voted against the Comcast-NBC merger, "expressed surprise at her departure."
The change was harshly criticized by many newspapers and organizations. Free Press, a media interest group, said it was "just the latest, though perhaps most blatant, example of a so-called public servant cashing in at a company she is supposed to be regulating.” The Center for Responsive Politics said, "It's a big boon for Comcast," noting that consumers "can't afford to hire someone of a similar stature to advocate for them." Timothy P. Carney, a political columnist for The Washington Examiner, characterized it as "unseemly" and "depressing" that she "monetize[d] her public service in this way." Dan Frommer of Business Insider described it as a "sleazy move". The New York Times editorialized that her "swift shift from regulator to lobbyist for the regulated will only add to Americans’ cynicism about their government." The Philadelphia Inquirer expressed the opinion that "the move threatens to further undermine public confidence in the government's ability to make objective decisions that put ordinary citizens' interests first." Michael Scherer of Time magazine wrote, "[I]f you stand up for wealthy interests while serving the public interest, chances are there is a nice fat paycheck waiting for you somewhere when you choose to leave government." The Seattle Times said, "So much for ethics and public service, it's time to get paid. Unseemly does not begin to describe Baker's actions." The Scranton Times-Tribune concluded, "[T]he public should never assume its interests are protected on regulatory matters."
Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, an American late night satirical television program, ridiculed the timing by first feigning praise of Baker for her stated desire for government efficiency, saying, "Finally, someone in government who is not just looking out for No. 1", and then after airing a news clip announcing the Comcast job (to audible groans from the audience), responded sardonically, "Well, that was fast."
After a Seattle non-profit that helps teenage girls make movies tweeted a criticism about Baker, a Comcast executive terminated their funding, a decision later reversed after media inquiries. The group subsequently refused the money citing freedom of expression concerns, and later 600 donors' contributions more than made up the difference.
On the other hand, commentators noted that the revolving door between government and industry is all too common though usually not so rapid. The Los Angeles Times described the inference that she supported the Comcast/NBC merger as her ticket to employment as "silly" concluding that her stance was consistent with her philosophical views. The Vice-President of the Media Access Project, a communications advocacy organization, said "The revolving door at the FCC is a major problem, but Commissioner Baker is following the rules, and her actions are no different than many of her predecessors." He stated his belief that Baker was a "thoughtful FCC commissioner and conscientious public servant."
The president of the National Association of Broadcasters commended Baker saying "her in-depth knowledge of broadcast issues, deep understanding of the D.C. landscape and strong leadership abilities will make her an important resource for the entire broadcast industry."
While Baker may immediately lobby Congress and supervise employees who directly lobby the FCC, to comply with President Barack Obama's ethics pledge, she may not personally lobby any executive branch political appointee (including the FCC) while Obama is in office. However after two years, she may lobby non-political appointees at the FCC. Additionally she may never personally lobby anyone on the Comcast/NBC merger agreement.
Baker expressed surprise that she was hired in light of these lobbying restrictions. However, The Seattle Times editorialized the restrictions are of little worth: "Any lobbying will begin and end with her. It does not matter if she has a minion doing her bidding. The result is the same."
Possible House probe
Free Press sent a petition with 130,000 signatures to the House of Representatives calling for an investigation. The Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, said, "We’re aware of the situation and we’ll continue to monitor it”, and subsequently requested clarification from the FCC Chairman about the procedures involved with her departure and the timeline of events. The Chairman responded that Baker first requested advice April 13, 2011 and began to recuse herself on matters involving Comcast and NBC on April 18. Additionally, the consumer advocacy group, Public Knowledge, asked the agency to reinstate a lapsed provision requiring commissioners to make public the start of job negotiations, saying, "“No one in the public, and probably few at the Commission, knew that she had talked with Comcast about possible future employment until she announced her departure.”
Jay Inslee, a Democratic member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce added, "There are a lot of questions. It just looks horrible. It looks really bad. I can't believe someone would be so blind to that perception.... It's just not passing the smell test." Democrat Maxine Waters echoed these sentiments: "I think she knew when she took that vote that she would be going to work for Comcast. She may deny there were discussions, but I don't believe her." Baker categorically denies these allegations.
In 2006, she married James Addison "Jamie" Baker IV in Ravello, Italy. He is a son of James A. Baker III, who served as the Chief of Staff in President Ronald Reagan's first administration and as Secretary of State in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. He has four daughters from a previous marriage. They reside in McLean, Virginia.
- "Biography of FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
- Kang, Cecilia (December 23, 2009). "Act Two for FCC's Meredith Attwell Baker". Post Tech. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
- McAvoy, Kim (June 17, 2009). "Baker: Likely A Light-Handed Regulator". TV News Check. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
- Hearn, Ted (November 9, 2007). "DTV Box Program Chief Leaving Job". Multichannel News. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- Greenfield, Heather (December 18, 2007). "John Kneuer Keeps Interoperability Focus". Technology Daily. National Journal. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- Hearn, Ted (August 1, 2008). "FCC Hammers Comcast On File Sharing". Multichannel News. Retrieved 2011-05-21. "I’m concerned about the decision, about government regulation of the Internet. ... I associate myself with McDowell and Tate’s comments."
- Eckersley, Peter (October 20, 2007). "Comcast is also Jamming Gnutella (and Lotus Notes?)". Deeplinks (Electronic Frontier Foundation). Retrieved 2011-05-24.
- Bangeman, Eric (October 22, 2007). "Comcast traffic blocking: even more apps, groupware clients affected". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2011-05-24.
- Teinowitz, Ira (January 5, 2009). "Digital TV Coupon Program Runs Out of Money". TelevisionWeek (Crain Communications). Retrieved 2011-05-21. "Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., ... The change to digital television is just weeks away, and today we learn that the Bush Administration’s approach to nickel-and-dime efforts aimed at making this conversion easier on consumers is flat broke. NTIA has known for months and months that the coupon program needed hundreds of millions more in funding to make sure that every American can get the digital television transition assistance they need. The failure to protect consumers is simply astounding."
- "Obama eyes Meredith Baker for U.S. FCC position". Reuters. June 25, 2009. Retrieved 2011-05-21.
- "Regulator To Join Comcast After OK Of NBC Deal". Associated Press. May 11, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- Krigman, Eliza; Boliek, Brooks (May 11, 2011). "FCC's Baker to resign, join NBC". Politico. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- Kang, Cecilia (May 13, 2011). "FCC’s Meredith Baker goes on the defensive". Post Tech. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- Wyatt, Edward (May 11, 2011). "F.C.C. Commissioner Leaving to Join Comcast". Media Decoder. The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- Tsukayama, Hayley (May 11, 2011). "FCC commissioner Meredith Baker to join Comcast-NBC". Post Tech. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- Wyatt, Edward (May 13, 2011). "F.C.C. Commissioner Defends Taking Comcast Job". Media Decoder. The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- Fernandez, Bob (May 15, 2011). "Straight from Washington, new Comcast executive will face lobbying limits". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved May 15, 2011.
- Carney, Timothy P. (May 11, 2011). "The FCC commissioner's depressing cashout to Comcast". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- Frommer, Dan (May 12, 2011). "SLEAZY MOVE: FCC Commissioner Gets A Big Job At Comcast Right After Voting In Favor Of Comcast-NBC Deal". Business Insider. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "That Didn’t Take Long". The New York Times. May 12, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "Switching sides". The Philadelphia Inquirer. May 14, 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- Scherer, Michael (May 13, 2011). "Without a Hitch, the Revolving Door Still Spins at the FCC". Swampland. Time. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- Blethen, Ryan (May 13, 2011). "Comcast and the FCC just got a tad too cozy". The Seattle Times. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
- "Public interest, personal gain". The Times-Tribune (Scranton). May 15, 2011. Retrieved May 15, 2011.
- Gruenwald, Juliana (May 18, 2011). "Stewart Mocks Baker's Decision to Leave FCC For Comcast". Technology Daily. National Journal. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Stewart, Jon (May 16, 2011). "Well, That Was Fast - Comcast/NBC Merger". The Daily Show. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
- Kang, Cecilia (May 19, 2011). "Tweet about FCC member’s new job at Comcast sets off firestorm". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Tessler, Joelle (May 19, 2011). "Comcast Apologizes to Nonprofit for Cutting Funds". Associated Press. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Schatz, Amy (May 19, 2011). "Comcast Restores Nonprofit’s Funding After Tweet Dust-Up". Washington Wire. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
- Cahn, Emily (May 20, 2011). "Reel Grrls rejects Comcast funding after Twitter spat". Hillicon Valley. The Hill. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Kang, Cecilia (May 20, 2011). "Reel Grrls turns down Comcast funds, cites free expression". Post Tech. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Switzer, Cody (May 25, 2011). "Donors Give Big to Replace Corporate Grant Rejected by Charity". The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
- "Government: FCC Commissioner Baker exits via the revolving door". Los Angeles Times. May 11, 2011. Retrieved May 12, 2011.
- "Executive Order -- Ethics Pledge". White House Office of the Press Secretary. January 29, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- Kang, Cecilia (May 20, 2011). "House oversight chair questions FCC Baker’s move to Comcast". Post Tech. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Hart, Kim (May 20, 2011). "Darrell Issa wants answers on Meredith Baker's departure". Politico. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Jerome, Sara (May 13, 2011). "Lawmakers consider probe of FCC member’s move to Comcast/NBCU". Hillicon Valley. The Hill. Retrieved May 13, 2011.
- Anderson, Nate (May 20, 2011). "Congress probes FCC Commissioner's departure to Comcast". Ars Technica. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Schatz, Amy (June 2, 2011). "FCC to Issa: Baker Sought Ethics Advice on Move to Comcast". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
- Genachowski, Julius (May 26, 2011). "General Counsel's Responses" (PDF). Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved June 05, 2011.
- Eggerton, John (May 20, 2011). "Public Knowledge: FCC Should Publicize Commissioner Job Searches". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
- Shepard, Michael; Gnoffo, Anthony (May 20, 2011). "Issa Asks FCC to Explain Commissioner's Departure for Comcast". Bloomberg. Retrieved May 20, 2011.