Approve a buyout, get a sinecure?

Meet NBC Universal’s newest executive, Atwell Baker.  She’ll soon be leading the government-relations unit for the new subsidiary of Comcast after the cable giant bought the network from GE.  Fortunately, the position exists because the FCC approved the buyout earlier this year; otherwise, Ms. Baker might have been stuck in her previous job for the next several years.

And what was her previous job?  Why, Baker served on the FCC as one of its five commissioners — and approved Comcast’s purchase of NBC:

Meredith Attwell Baker, one of the two Republican Commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, plans to step down—and right into a top lobbying job at Comcast-NBC.

The news, reported this afternoon by the Wall Street JournalThe Hill, andPolitico, comes after the hugely controversial merger of Comcast and NBC earlier this year. At the time, Baker objected to FCC attempts to impose conditions on the deal and argued that the “complex and significant transaction” could “bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms.”

Four months after approving the massive transaction, Attwell Baker will take a top DC lobbying job for the new Comcast-NBC entity, according to reports.

Apparently, Baker couldn’t wait to jump ship.  She was widely expected to get a nomination for another term on the FCC.  As Politico points out, though, two months ago Baker was griping that the buyout was taking too long:

While Baker is barred from lobbying the commission for two years, her decision to leave the commission so soon after it approved the merger of Comcast with NBCUniversal raised some eyebrows.

“As recently as March, Commissioner Baker gave a speech lamenting that review of the Comcast-NBC deal ‘took too long.’ What we didn’t know then was that she was in such a rush to start picking out the drapes in her new corner office,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a release.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Baker was one of their strongest voices inside the executive branch in opposition to Net Neutrality.  Regardless of the circumstances, her unseemly haste in cashing in on the Comcast decision will make it more difficult for her replacement, who by statute cannot be another Democrat, to frame that opposition as principled rather than self-interest.

And that assumes that President Obama will appoint a Republican who opposes Net Neutrality, or a Republican at all.  He could appoint a Green, for instance, or technically even an “unaffiliated” candidate would qualify.  After Baker’s career boost, expect Obama to take full advantage of the opening.