Comcast, GE shower contributions to key lawmakers ahead of merger hearing

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has received $17,500 from Comcast, up from $12,500 in the 2008 cycle and zero in 2006.

Schumer is up for reelection in 2010; Hatch is not.

General Electric, typically a big congressional donor, has already spent nearly $180,000 during 2009 and the beginning of 2010 — more than half the corporation’s total spending of last cycle.

Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House subcommittee, have collectively received $15,000 from GE, all increases from the previous campaign cycles.

Not all members of the subcommittees received contributions. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, received no money from either company so far in this campaign cycle. He is not up for reelection until 2012. He also does not accept money from PACs.

On the House subcommittee, Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running for Kit Bond's Senate seat, have not received contributions from either company.

The $30 billion deal would allow Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, to purchase NBC Universal, one of the nation’s largest content providers.

Consumer groups say the deal would give too much power over content distribution to a single company and will raise cable rates and reduce choices for consumers.

Comcast said the merger will increase the diversity of programming offered to consumers, spurring “other content producers and distributors to invest and innovate, thereby enhancing competition.”

Members on Thursday are expected to question the executives about how the merger will affect prices and programming options for consumers. They’ll also examine its effect on the cable and video distribution market as a whole, since a post-merger company would control one out of every five viewing hours in the country.

“The only place for consumers to have their concerns aired and get direct responses is through congressional hearings,” said Joel Kelsey, policy counsel at Consumers Union. The financial resources at the disposal of Comcast and GE “underscores the need for consumers to have a voice in this process.”

The Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice have final say over the merger. In its filing with the FCC last week, Comcast promised to continue providing free over-the-air broadcasting and to make its content available to competitors.