Outrage Of The Week: FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker Cashes In

Meredith Attwell Baker

Federal Communications commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, who just four months ago voted in favour of the hugely controversial merger between Comcast and NBC, announced this week that she planned to join the lobbying office of Comcast.

From the Washington Post:

Baker stood out among the FCC’s five commissioners for criticising the merger review process for taking too long. She said the agency attached too many conditions to the deal. Among them, she opposed holding Comcast accountable to Internet access rules and the sharing of content with new online distributors such as Netflix and YouTube. She said those Internet television platforms were too new and that the market for online video was competitive and still forming. 

The deal was approved in January by the FCC and Justice Department, forming a media behemoth that controls a bevy of television and movie assets along with the largest number of U.S. home Internet and cable subscriptions.

Also of note, Meredith Attwell Baker is a Republican who was appointed to the F.C.C. by President Obama two years ago. On the endemic problem of regulatory capture, here’s The Future of Capitalism:

In a better world, this would be a hot political issue for a politician to seize on. But because it’s such a bipartisan problem — both Republicans and Democrats cash out through the revolving door — it doesn’t get much attention. It’s a part of why government gets bigger, though, because for the politicians and regulators the incentives are there to make more complex rules and laws that they can then earn money helping companies to either comply with or get around.

Meredith Attwell Baker is just the latest example of the pervasive ‘go into government to cash-in’ culture which has poisoned public service in the U.S. Baker’s shameful move is nothing new, but she does earn extra outrage kudos for brazenly waiting a scant four months before making such a blatant ethical affront.

Some may wonder whether it’s right to cast shame on Attwell Baker? I’m not a legal expert, but I suspect she’s not violating any laws or rules. Instead one could argue that she is simply behaving in accordance with the system’s incentive structure.

The big problem with taking this view is that regulatory capture is a very difficult problem to address, but one that creates huge costs. Most of the people who are best served to work in the regulatory arena naturally come, and can most easily find later employment in, the industries they regulate.

Until a systemic solution is devised accountability has to be maintained at the individual level, and that means shaming the shameful.

As the regulatory revolving door leading in-and-out of industry keeps going around, and around, and around, and as fiscal deficits keep piling higher, can there be any doubt that we’re simply biding our time until the next big crisis?