Comcast Corp. promoted longtime Republican lobbyist and aide Mitch Rose to head its 50-member legislative office and multimillion-dollar lobbying budget in Washington as it faces a bundle of contentious issues involving the Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump administration.
Comcast doled out $15.3 million in lobbying in 2017, making it the 14th-largest influence spender among commercial interests in Washington in 2017, the nonprofit group Opensecrets.org says on its website.
Rose, former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and press aide to former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, replaces Melissa Maxfield, whom Comcast appointed to her position in 2008. She served as an aide to former Sen. Tom Daschle, a high-ranking South Dakota Democrat.
"This is the way the game is played," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, professor at the Georgetown University law school who has been involved in telecom issues in Washington for decades, referring to the switch from Democrat to Republican in Comcast's legislative office.
"But the point for me is slightly different," he said. "Comcast is not alone in this and there is nothing evil about it. Comcast covers all bases. They are looking for people who are well-respected and well-connected. Period."
Schwartzman added that "I don't see anything close to an existential threat to Comcast on anything" in Washington.
Rose's promotion — Comcast hired him in 2014 to direct legislative issues for Comcast-owned NBCUniversal — was announced on the same week that a federal judge began the antitrust trial into AT&T Inc.'s proposed purchase of Time Warner in Washington.
If the Justice Department prevails in blocking AT&T's deal for Time Warner, industry observers say, the U.S. government could seek to extend limitations on Comcast's deal for NBCUniversal. The AT&T/Time Warner trial could last eight weeks.
The limitations put into a consent decree with the Justice Department were designed to curb Comcast's potential monopoly power. The government had been concerned that Comcast wouldn't make popular NBC shows and networks such as USA or Bravo available to pay-TV rivals and streamers, giving Comcast a competitive advantage.
The consent decree will expire later this year. Comcast has said that the consent decree should not be extended and that the company has no plans to withhold NBC programming.
On Capitol Hill, federal lawmakers are looking at legislation involving online privacy, net neutrality, wireless spectrum allocation, and broader changes in federal telecommunications law with implications for Comcast.
Rose — who also has been vice president for government relations for the Walt Disney Co. and ran his own lobbying firm in Washington — will be Comcast's senior vice president of congressional and federal government affairs, and will report to David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president at Comcast.
"Mitch has done a tremendous job leading NBCUniversal's federal government relations division, working with policymakers on issues related to media and the broadcast industry," Cohen said in a statement. "His experience and strategic insight navigating the complexities of Capitol Hill, combined with his exemplary leadership, make him an invaluable part of our remarkable team in Washington, D.C." The 50 people there include support staff and compliance managers as well as lobbyists.
Maxfield remains with Comcast's Washington office as senior strategic adviser for federal government and corporate affairs, directing relationships with federal elected officials and trade and business groups. She also will report to Cohen.