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Republican FCC Commissioners Obstructing Investigation By Withholding Documents from Oversight Committee

Sep 14, 2016
Press Release

Republican FCC Commissioners Obstructing Investigation By Withholding Documents from Oversight Committee

 

Washington, D.C. (Sept. 14, 2016)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to two Republican Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, seeking an explanation for their refusal to provide any documents whatsoever in response to a request from the Oversight Committee more than a year ago relating to the rulemaking process for the Open Internet Order released in 2015. 

“Although Democratic Members of the Commission have cooperated fully with our request, neither of you has produced a single responsive document to date, and even more concerning, your staff informed the Oversight Committee that you had not even begun to collect them,” Cummings wrote.  “Your refusal to cooperate with the Committee’s request is unacceptable, it obstructs our investigation, and it prevents the Committee from having a complete or accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding this rulemaking.”

The Oversight Committee sent a letter last year requesting that all FCC Commissioners and their staffs produce a broad range of documents related to the Open Internet Order.  Republican and Democratic Committee staff held meetings and calls with FCC staff, including staff working for the Republican Commissioners.

Although the FCC’s Office of General Counsel immediately began producing responsive documents from Democratic Commissioners, that office sent a letter to the Committee explaining that Pai personally refused to cooperate:

“Notwithstanding our efforts to execute your Committee’s instructions in a consistent manner throughout the agency, senior staff in the Office of Commissioner Ajit Pai recently informed me that Commissioner Pai will not permit OGC to collect, review and produce responsive documents that are in his custody or in the custody of his staff.”

Serious questions have been raised about Pai’s efforts to organize opposition to the proposed rule with outside parties.  Pai previously worked as associate general counsel for Verizon, one of the major opponents of the open Internet policy, and he reportedly “enjoys the support of conservative think tanks like the Phoenix Center, the Free State Foundation and TechFreedom.”

Similar concerns have been raised about O’Rielly, a former Republican Senate staffer.  Email exchanges obtained by the Oversight Committee show that O’Rielly and his Chief of Staff sought edits on a draft op-ed from three individuals outside the FCC with professional interests that could be affected by the rule.  The emails show that several of these individuals provided extensive edits—even apologizing for all the “red ink”—and O’Rielly then explained to his Chief of Staff that he “took a bunch and left out some stuff.”

O’Rielly’s op-ed was published in The Hill on May 5, 2014, just ten days before the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, yet none of the 750 ex parte filings regarding this rule was filed by any of these individuals for these communications.  When confronted with these facts, O’Rielly tried to claim that he wrote the op-ed in his “personal” capacity despite using official FCC resources, email, and staff.

Cummings asked for a response to his letter by Friday.

Click here to read the full letter.

 

114th Congress