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Comcast and Time Warner Cable give big to some senators reviewing merger

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Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is a vocal critic of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Franken is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds a hearing about  the merger on Wednesday.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is a vocal critic of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger. Franken is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds a hearing about the merger on Wednesday.

The Senate will weigh in on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger during Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, the first congressional examination of how the merger would impact consumers. The number one and number two cable providers in the country are also big-time on the influence circuit, giving upwards of a combined $42.4 million to various politicians and groups since 1989.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer tool also shows that the two companies have spent a combined $143.5 million lobbying Congress since 1989 on issues including telecommunications, technology, taxes and copyright.

President Barack Obama benefitted the most, by far, from Comcast, whose employees and their family members contributed more than $537,800. Two Texans – Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – are the top recipients of contributions from Time Warner Cable, receiving $185,000 and $170,000, respectively.

David L. Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president, and Arthur T. Minson Jr., Time Warner’s executive vice president and CFO, are both slated to testify during the hearing. Federal Election Commission disclosures show that Minson is a modest donor; in 2007 and 2008, he gave $1,960 to the National Cable and Telecommunications PAC and $2,000 to Time Warner’s PAC.

Cohen, however, throws much more of his own money into politics. He bundled contributions for Obama and gives significantly to other Democrats, especially in his home state of Pennsylvania. Cohen served as Ed Rendell’s chief of staff when the Democratic pol was mayor of Philadelphia in the mid ’90s. Cohen contributed $50,000 to Rendell's successful 2002 campaign for governor. In the wake of last October's government shutdown, Cohen hosted a fundraiser at his home, attended by Obama and Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., for the the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the organization responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Senate. Cohen claimed that the event raised $1 million.

The two will face questioning from at least one outspoken critic of the $45 billion merger, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who recently argued that the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal “could compromise the open nature of the Internet.” In February, on the same day that Comcast announced the details of the merger, Franken wrote a letter to the heads of the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission that outlined his concerns about “increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction.”

The “Saturday Night Live” alum, who is up for reelection this year, is a fundraising powerhouse, bringing in more than $13.3 million since he first ran for office in 2008. His largest contributors are lawyers and law firms, which have given him a little more than $1.6 million. However, he has benefitted from his Hollywood connections, throwing fundraising parties with the likes of Conan O’Brien and Jon Hamm – and receiving campaign contributions from employees of NBC and Universal, acquired by Comcast in 2009. Franken has gotten $54,550 from NBC- and Universal-affiliated employees, including $4,900 from his old boss, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels. Not included in that overall total is the $4,600 Franken received from Marta Kauffman, whose show “Friends” was a revenue jackpot for NBC in the ’90s and early 2000s.

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin are the other two Democrats up for reelection on the Judiciary Committee. Comcast is the third-highest overall contributor to Coons, giving him $53,300 since he ran for Vice President Joe Biden’s old seat. Time Warner Cable employees have given Coons $3,000.

Durbin has gotten the largest chunk – $273,150 – of his campaign money in the current election cycle from lawyers and law firms. However, overall, Durbin has gotten $51,700 from Comcast-affiliated employees, and $3,500 from Time Warner employees.

Comcast and Cohen have made significant contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Since 1989, according to Influence Explorer, Comcast has given the DSCC $640,625, of which about $52,800 came from Cohen.

The three Republicans on the Judiciary Committee up for reelection in November – Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas – have not been significant Comcast beneficiaries. Overall, the three Southern state senators have received a total of $31,500 from Comcast and Comcast-affiliated employees, a sliver of the almost $70 million the three have raised in total during their respective runs for federal office. Time Warner employees have given $30,700 to Graham and $10,500 to Cornyn. Sessions has not received any money from Time Warner.

However, like its Democratic counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has gotten significant contributions from Comcast. Since 1989, the media group has given at least $470,170 to the group working to elect GOP candidates to the Senate.

The hearing on the merger is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Peter Olsen-Phillips contributed to this report