By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Comcast Corp. has long been a big player in Washington, DC, working to expand its influence among lawmakers as it increases its industry footprint across the country.

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Comcast says that for its business and its customers, it’s critical for the company to be part of the political process.

But public interest groups say the company’s donations to politicians buys Comcast inside access to help it survive government scrutiny over its bid for Time Warner Cable.

Comcast certainly is allowed to make donations, acknowledges Politico technology reporter Tony Romm, “and it gives this money to plenty of members, both parties, both houses of Congress, even up to the White House.”

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Romm says Comcast’s political action committee gave cash to all but three of the 18 US senators on the Judiciary Committee (including Sen. Chris Coons,D-Del).  That’s the panel holding a hearing into the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal later this month.

“Members of Congress say that those campaign checks don’t affect their judgement one way or the other. Open government experts, however, think that when you have that much money in politics and it’s coming so often from one company, it’s hard for lawmakers to look at things objectively,” notes Romm.

Meanwhile, opponents of the big cable merger say they have nowhere near the resources to fight a lobbying campaign on Comcast’s level — one seen just a few years ago as the company locked up its purchase of NBC Universal.

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