May 10, 2018

Doyle seeks ethics probe into FCC involvement with conservative group

By: Carter Wyckoff

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

May 8, 2018




WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle is calling for an investigation into whether three top federal regulators violated a prohibition on political activity by executive branch employees.

The three Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission attended a February conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee. At that convention FCC Chairman Ajit Pai received an award from the National Rifle Association. He later returned the award. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr also attended the convention.

During remarks at the event, Mr. O’Rielly called for the re-election of President Donald Trump, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Mr. Doyle, of Forest Hills, chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates ethics violations, already had expressed concerns about the commissioners’ attendance and concluded that Mr. O’Reilly had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from promoting political candidates or parties in their official capacities.

The commissioners did not respond to a request for comment but directed questions to an agency spokeswoman.

“The FCC’s career ethics officials determined that it was permissible for the three Republican commissioners to speak at CPAC,” the spokeswoman said in a written statement. “Indeed, Cabinet members also spoke at CPAC, and the Democrats’ letter contains no explanation for why the commissioners’ participation should be treated any differently. Sadly, we are left to conclude that the Democrats are simply trying to stop FCC commissioners from speaking to right-of-center organizations while they have no problem with commissioners speaking to left-of-center groups.”

The commissioners have refused to cooperate with the committee, the two congressmen told special counsel Henry Kerner in a letter Monday asking for him to open an investigation and to offer FCC employees training sessions on the Hatch Act.

Rather than appear before the committee, which has jurisdiction over the agency, the commissioners responded through an attorney that they believed CPAC is not a partisan political group and that the Hatch Act doesn’t apply to their attendance at its conference.

“This contention is simply not true,” Mr. Doyle and Mr. Pallone wrote in their letter.

“The chairman’s likeness and official title were used in advertisements to encourage people to pay upwards of $5,000 to attend the event,” they noted. They said they had concerns about whether the commissioners knowingly violated ethical restrictions.

Committee Democrats – Mr. Doyle in particular – have been at odds with the FCC since it repealed the Open Internet Order in December. The order had prohibited internet service providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing web traffic based on content.

Mr. Pai has argued that the Open Internet Order discouraged innovation and that the market should dictate the evolution of the internet.