Sandeep Kaushik works for Murray’s re-election and lobbies for Comcast and other corporations
Seattle’s biggest lobbyist, Sandeep Kaushik, is also a political consultant to Mayor Ed Murray’s re-election campaign. In 2016, Kaushik earned $186,000 lobbying the Seattle City Council on behalf of Comcast ($60,000), Airbnb ($60,000), Lyft ($36,000) and Cannabis Organization of Retail Establishments ($30,000).
Kaushik would not comment for this article.
While there is no law against a political consultant lobbying the city council, the arrangement concerns Devin Glaser, policy and political director for Upgrade Seattle—a grassroots group working to make internet service a public utility like Seattle City Light. The changes sought by Upgrade Seattle would significantly impact Comcast’s profits in Seattle.
“To see the [mayor’s] campaign consultant turn around and become a lobbyist is uncomfortable,” says Glaser. “I’d like to see a bigger wall” between campaigning and lobbying.
In 2016, Comcast was the company that spent the most money lobbying the city council: $98,000 [Disclosure: the author worked at Seattle Channel in a position partially funded by a grant from Comcast]. The year before, the media giant spent $99,000 lobbying and won its second 10-year, cable-franchise agreement with support from Murray and the city council.
Kaushik, politics and lobbying
In 2002, Kaushik first came onto Seattle’s political scene as a reporter for The Stranger, one of Seattle’s alternative newsweeklies. From 2005-2007, Kaushik worked as deputy communications director for then-King County Executive Ron Sims. He became a political consultant in 2007 and worked on campaigns for current King County Executive Dow Constantine and statewide initiative campaigns against liquor privatization in Washington and against private casinos in Oregon. In 2009, he became a partner at Sound View Strategies (SVS), a firm that provides “strategic guidance for a diverse set of clients,” according to the company’s website.
The SVS website also states, “In 2013, Sandeep was the lead consultant on the successful campaign of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who defeated the sitting incumbent in a hard-fought race, and helped to establish the new administration during the transition.”
Kaushik confirmed he is also working for Murray’s 2017 re-election campaign. Murray campaign spokesperson Christian Sinderman says, “Every elected official has advisors who help in campaign settings. It’s extremely rare that those advisors don’t have other clients.” He adds, “Look at the track record of this mayor. It’s a bold, progressive agenda based on his values, certainly not based on any one advisor or perspective.”
In 2014, Kaushik began lobbying the city council. At the time, he only had one client, Lyft, and earned $20,000 for lobbying.
By 2015, Kaushik had four clients, Comcast, Airbnb, Washington Cannabusiness Association and Lyft. That year, he earned $124,000 from lobbying.
Over the last two years, Comcast has been Kaushik’s biggest client, paying him a total of $120,000.
Comcast: largest media company in the world
Comcast is the largest media company in the world with $160 billion in assets. The corporation is the largest cable TV company and the largest internet-service provider in the United States. Comcast’s corporate history is controversial and includes paying the largest fine, $2.3 million, ever levied by the Federal Communications Commission.
In 2015, the city council awarded Comcast its second, ten-year, cable franchise. Seattle has also awarded two other companies, CenturyLink and Wave, cable franchises. The three companies serve different parts of the city.
After the Comcast franchise agreement was approved by the city council, Mayor Murray announced, “The approval of this revised and improved franchise agreement reflects my administration’s commitment to digital equity.” Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, then-chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee, added, “We focused on expanding low-income discounts and ensuring all residents get the best service.” Councilmember Harrell sent Outside City Hall a detailed statement about the agreement’s benefits.
In 2016, Comcast had no significant legislation before the city council. Councilmember Harrell, who continues to chair the city council committee assigned to technology, states, “In 2016, I cannot recall meeting with any representative from Comcast.”
So why was Comcast spending heavily to lobby the city council last year?
Comcast’s agenda: street restoration or stopping public Internet?
Walter Neary, Comcast Senior Director for Communications in Washington, states, “Comcast has worked closely with the city on utility coordination and street restoration requirements as we make investments in infrastructure and technological improvements for the benefit of our customers in Seattle such as 1 Gig Internet speeds planned for later this year.”
Yet, “utility coordination” and “street restoration” are not normally subject to city council approval. “Utility coordination and street restoration requirements are delegated to the [mayor] to administer,” says a city council spokesperson. “Specific plans do not come to council for formal action, unless there is actual right-of-way or property rights being transferred.”
Upgrade Seattle’s Glaser says, “It’s pretty clear what [Comcast] is trying to stop going through the city council: a municipal-broadband utility.” Glaser argues that a public internet-service utility could provide better, faster service and save Seattleites money.
Comcast’s Neary says Kaushik does not lobby about public-internet service. “We work with a consultant in Seattle around the complex issues related to expanding and improving our network. This work has not involved any lobbying about municipal broadband,” states Neary.
Last year, Comcast, however, employed two other lobbyists in addition to Kaushik. Neary’s statement did not address their activities.
Murray’s city spokesperson, Benton Strong, says the mayor “has been and remains supportive of [public-internet service] conceptually. But it is cost prohibitive.” The most recent city study estimated a public, internet-service network would cost Seattle taxpayers between $480 million and $665 million.
Glaser notes that, in 2015, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed a $5 million public internet-service pilot project, but the measure was defeated in a 6-2 city council vote. Last year, Sawant and Councilmember Rob Johnson sponsored a budget addition of $170,000 for a build-out plan for public internet; it died in budget negotiations, according to Glaser.
“Public-interest lobbying does not pay anything. I’m doing this for free” says Glaser. “It’s hard to stand up to $98,000 in lobbying.”
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Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. He works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy.