A conflict for Penn men at the Comcast hearing?

For all the coverage of this week's Senate Judiciary hearing on Comcast's $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, one interesting detail got hardly any attention.

David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp., from left, Christopher Yoo, John H. Chestnut professor of law, communication, and computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania, Arthur Minson Jr., executive vice president and chief financial officer of Time Warner Cable Inc., James Bosworth, chief executive officer of Back9Network Inc., and Richard Sherwin, chief executive officer of Spot On Networks LLC, talk before the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Comcast Corp., the nation's largest U.S. cable company, told regulators it can offer advanced video services and spread high-speed nternet service without harming competition if it's allowed to buy No. 2 Time Warner Cable Inc. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** David Cohen; Christopher Yoo; Arthur Minson; James Bosworth; Richard Sherwin From left: Comcast's David Cohen, law professor Christopher Yoo, Time Warner Cable's Arthur Minson Jr., Back9Network CEO James Bosworth and Spot On CEO Richard Sherwin attended a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Christopher Yoo, an antitrust expert who testified that the deal isn't likely to hurt consumers, teaches at the University of Pennsylvania law school. David Cohen, the Comcast executive who is the company's leading voice in Washington and was the first witness at the hearing, is chairman of the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove did note the connection, writing that Yoo:

argued that the merger would have negligible impact on consumer prices or competition. (Of course, Yoo -- whose Center for Technology, Innovation & Competition is partially supported by the cable industry — works in Comcast’s hometown of Philadelphia; Cohen, coincidentally, chairs the university's board of trustees -- he is nothing if not supremely well-connected)

Cohen, a native New Yorker, is a bona fide Philadelphia guy these days. He went to law school at Penn after graduating from nearby Swarthmore College, and was chief of staff to Ed Rendell, the city's former mayor. He's also on the board of directors of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce

Reached by phone, Yoo said he'd seen Cohen in passing at events in Philadelphia but met him for the first time at Wednesday's hearing. Yoo said support from the cable industry makes up only a "tiny little bit" of the technology center's funding, and he rejected any suggestion that Cohen's role at the university had any influence on Yoo's testimony, pointing out that as a tenured law professor, his academic freedom is protected.

"The views of any other person in the university administration do not have any impact on my academic views or any public statements I make," said Yoo, who has testified before Congress several other times.

A Comcast spokeswoman noted that Yoo has long held a consistent position on the issues raised by the merger.

And how about the organizers of the hearing? Aides to senior committee members from both parties said that no one made the connection between Yoo and Cohen.

 

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Brian Fung · April 11, 2014

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