I once worked with a person — who will remain unnamed — who said that in the work my institution was focused on and that was primarily supported by two sides of an industry group at war with each other that we should pick the side that gives us the most financial support (i.e., dough).
In retrospect, this individual has said that his comment was meant in jest — and so I withdrew my criticism of the statement and him — but the point of working for the highest bidder despite the merits of a case still matters in the structurally corrupt reality of Washington, D.C.
Allegedly, former Attorney General John Ashcroft offered his firm’s services to XM Satellite Radio Holdings in the days after the Sirius/XM merger was announced. When rebuffed, he went and sold his weight in these matters to opponents of the deal, the National Association of Broadcasters.
This clip just ran in the Wall Street Journal:
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, 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.
The spokesman said XM declined Mr. Ashcroft’s offer to work as a lobbyist for the company.
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.
The fact is that there may be appropriate reasons for opposing a merger of two huge media firms — not that any other large merging media conglomerate marriages have been stopped. But still, there may be a reason not to allow a virtual monopoly in satellite radio services to be born.
But if Ashcroft did “pay for play” in this case — then this is a very serious matter that ought to be debated in the press, among players in the legal and antitrust profession, and among politicians and policymakers.
Ashcroft may have done nothing illegal in this case — but to have served as the former Attorney General of the United States and to weigh in so heavily on a specific case in which he has a financial interest — needs to be known by all parties because it should erode the trust that others should have in his counsel and advocacy.
I think that Ashcroft’s representatives have some explaining to do in this case — or alternatively, the revelation that Ashcroft wrote to Attorney General Gonzales and shopped his services to both sides in the case may generate a lot of “Blowback” and may make it harder for the federal government to block the XM/Sirius merger — even if it is the appropriate thing to do.
Gonzales needs to understand that he has a problem now and needs to demonstrably show that he and his antitrust division have not been inappropriately influenced by Ashcroft.
Gonzales should now appoint an independent ombudsman to report on the process — and potentially even assign an investigator to look into the review that the Ashcroft Group conducted for the National Association of Broadcasters if it is submitted as evidence in the case.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. Hat tip to Bonddad for forwarding the WSJ piece.