Sunday, March 04, 2007

Let the conflicts of interest soar

Patrick G. Ryan/The Hill Newspaper, via the New York Times

The two providers of satellite digital radio in the US, Sirius and XM, want to merge. Like all mergers, those for and against have their lobbyists. But the credibility of the lobbyists surely depends on some sign that they actually believe what they are saying, which is kind of awkward when you've attempted to shill for both sides. Enter George W. Bush's former Attorney-General, John Ashcroft (Wall Street Journal, subs. req'd) --

... who sent a letter this week to his successor Alberto Gonzales blasting the proposed merger of Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., approached XM in the days after the merger was announced offering the firm his consulting services, a spokesman for XM said Saturday.

... Mr. Ashcroft was subsequently hired by the National Association of Broadcasters, which is fiercely opposed to the merger. On its behalf he conducted a review of the effects on competition if the two satellite radio companies were allowed to merge.

In a letter sent to Mr. Gonzales Feb. 27, Mr. Ashcroft concluded the merger would have a significant negative impact on competition in the market and urged the current attorney general to withhold approval for the merger.

"After the merger was announced, Mr. Ashcroft's firm contacted us about hiring him to assist us," said Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for XM. "We declined. Apparently the National Association of Broadcasters opted to pay him to parrot their views."

... A revelation that Mr. Ashcroft was shopping his services to both sides of the debate over the merger may raise doubts in the eyes of some as to the rigor of his review conducted on behalf of the NAB.

"We are often in contact with opposing interests on almost every major antitrust issue when the news first breaks," said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ashcroft. "Working for the National Association of Broadcasters was a clear call for Ashcroft -- there are simply no substitutes in the marketplace for the product XM and Sirius sell."

In this case, the spokesperson is as revealing of the Washington lobbying network as her boss. The above picture, easily obtainable via "The Google", shows her with another legendary lobbyist who has shopped his services on the same cause to multiple clients in recent years.

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