Md. Lawmakers Call for Probe of Comcast Ties
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Maryland legislative leaders called on the State Ethics Commission yesterday to examine Comcast's deep ties within state government, bonds forged through jobs for high-ranking public officials, their relatives and their friends.
"I think the Ethics Commission has the purview of reviewing any situation where there is a conflict of interest, and with respect to Comcast, I think that's what they should do," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Comcast, the state's dominant cable provider with more than 1 million subscribers, has hired a list of politically connected people including first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich, former Prince George's county executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and the chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, David H. Nevins.
Concerns about the perception of conflicts escalated yesterday as additional names circulated of politically connected people to whom Comcast has given work, including the daughter of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), the wife of a former top Prince George's official, a Baltimore City Council member and a former Howard County Council member.
Melanie Miller, who has served as a communications specialist at Comcast since June, said she has "always had to work harder to get jobs" to avoid the perception that they came with her father's help. "I applied. I interviewed. And they saw, as anyone who knows me knows, I'm a communicator."
Like many of Comcast's politically connected employees, Miller said she was hired by Stephen A. Burch, until recently the president of the company's Atlantic Division.
Miller's hiring raises some of the same concerns that are associated with Ehrlich's position as an executive producer, said Bobbie Walton, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland. For officials whose family members get jobs, Walton said, "it certainly casts a lot of questions on their judgment."
A Comcast spokesman defended the hiring decisions yesterday, saying they complied with company policy. Consultants, he said, "are hired based on their areas of expertise and their ability to deliver on specific work requests."
Although the company's reach has extended to both parties, Democratic lawmakers focused much of their attention on the first lady, whose latest job with Comcast involved producing and starring in 16 episodes of a talk show about substance abuse.
Comcast is paying her $55,000 a year for the work, her spokesman said yesterday.
Speaking on a talk radio program in Baltimore yesterday, the Ehrlichs called the first lady's job "a non-story." They also called yesterday's Washington Post report disclosing her job as an attack on women who work.
With mock alarm, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) declared: "The wife of a politician actually works?"