Charter lobbies up in merger bid

Charter Communications is ramping up its Washington lobbying operations as the telecommunications firm makes its case to regulators reviewing its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.

The St. Louis-based broadband provider went on a hiring spree earlier this month, registering four lobbying firms in a single day. The roster of outside help features some heavy hitters with connections on both sides of the aisle tapped to help smooth the roughly $55 billion purchase of Time Warner and a $10.4 billion acquisition of Bright House Networks, a smaller provider with operations in five states.

Among the additions to Charter’s stable of lobbyists is Ed Pagano, a partner at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld who worked as Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs in the Obama administration, lobbying on the “proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, Inc. and acquisition of Bright House Networks LLC,” according to filings.

Pagano has experience with issues that affect the tech sector, including government surveillance and privacy, and previously served as Chief of Staff to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senate heads toward internet surveillance fight MORE (D-Vt.).

Timothy Kurth, who was a policy adviser to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) with a specialty in telecommunications, has also signed on to lobbying on matters related to “mergers and acquisitions — specifically telecommunications issues related to Charter's proposed deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.”

Charter has also inked deals with Peck Madigan Jones and the Franklin Square Group, a firm with a deep roster of brand-name clients from the tech industry. The former said it will work on “telecommunications and antitrust matters” while the latter said explicitly that it is working on the Time Warner deal.

The hires bring the company’s total number of outside lobbyists to nine.

”In general we don’t want to find that we’re in a crucial part of the process and find that we don’t have the resources to do what we need to do,” said Alex Dudley, Charter’s Senior Vice President of Communications, when asked about the hires.

As it makes its case, Charter has also hired net neutrality advocate Marvin Ammori to consult on the deal and possible conditions that regulators could place on it. According to a person familiar with his role at the company, Ammori will mostly work with Charter Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Catherine Bohigian as the company evaluates conditions.

Ammori is not expected to serve as a public advocate for the deal. He did, however, request to write an op-ed for Wired magazine laying out the company’s commitment to certain net neutrality principles as part of its initial salvo to regulators, in part to clear up questions about his role in the deal, according to the source.

Charter is arguing that the deal will allow it to take the values undergirding its operations right now — like offering fast broadband speeds — to more consumers.

“Under the leadership of Charter's management team, the merged company will have both the incentives and resources to double down on Charter's existing pro-customer and pro-broadband model and extend it to Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks' significantly larger footprint,” Charter said in its merger application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“The beauty of it from our perspective ... is that we’re not promising to be a company that's altogether different from what we are today,” Dudley said.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division will also review the deal for its effect on competition.

The company is looking to avoid the fate that befell Comcast’s bid to take over Time Warner, which was scuttled earlier this year. At the time, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the decision to call off the deal was in “the best interests of consumers.”

But despite having a shared target in Time Warner, Charter and Comcast are different companies. Comcast is the largest cable provider in the country, and would have acquired the second-largest in Time Warner. Charter only has over six million customers to Time Warner’s 15.4 million.

Charter also does not have a stake in producing video content. Comcast acquired NBCUniversal — which operates NBC and Telemundo and owns a movie studio — in 2013.

Still, the deal could face opposition. John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a June statement that the deal “can't get a free pass simply because other, failed mergers would arguably have been worse,” while he lauded some early comments by Charter.

Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenAl Franken says he would be Clinton's vice president if asked Poll: Sanders, Rubio most popular VP picks Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate MORE (D-Mich.), a prominent critic of the Comcast deal, has asked regulators to “carefully review” the transaction.

Charter made the lobbying hires to better allow it to respond to the intense scrutiny that comes with a deal of this size, according to Dudley.

“When we contemplate running a transaction like this through the Washington approval process, we have a staff in D.C. of less than ten,” he said. “When you start to think about how do you go about telling your story to all of the different people who can have an impact on its success inside the Beltway, you look at 10 people and say there is no way we can do that. So we have to get help.”

Comcast and Time Warner Cable were notably aggressive during the merger approval process, with the two companies spending millions on campaign contributions and lobbying.

For its part, Dudley indicated that Charter’s tactics will be calibrated as the deal moves forward but said that the company does not intend to begin its efforts by running a “political style campaign.”

”We’ll make our case, and we’ll make it as loudly as we think we need to,” he said, before noting in an email that “we don’t want to be overbearing."