Dems Demand Investigation into FCC Officials' CPAC Appearance

Posted: May 07, 2018 3:25 PM

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mike O’Rielly instructed the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February to re-elect President Trump.

“I think what we can do is make sure as conservatives that we elect good people to both the House, the Senate, and make sure that President Trump gets reelected,” O'Rielly said after he was asked what we can do to keep the era of internet regulation at bay. He was participating in a panel with fellow FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

In voicing his hopes for 2020, O'Rielly violated the Hatch Act, the Office of Special Counsel concluded after its investigation.

“Commissioner O’Rielly advocated for the reelection of President Trump in his official capacity as FCC Commissioner,” OSC official Erica Hamrick wrote. “Therefore, he violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election.”

The OSC wrote a warning letter to O'Rielly following their findings.

Seeing the report, two Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wants the OSC to take action, citing additional concerns with the FCC.

“In addition to your finding last week that Commissioner Michael O’Rielly did in fact violate the Hatch Act during his appearance at CPAC, the three Republican FCC Commissioners have also refused to cooperate with Congressional oversight into their promotion of and participation in CPAC,” the two Democrats wrote to OSC on Monday.

“These actions raise serious concerns about whether the Chairman and Commissioners may have knowingly violated ethical restrictions. We hope you will assist us in this investigation,” they added. 

FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson Jr. defended the FCC's presence at CPAC in a letter last month, explaining that CPAC may be conservative, but the conference is not affiliated with any one political party. He added in a statement provided to The Hill that Democrats seem to have "no problem" with commissioners speaking to leftist groups. Cabinet members, the spokesman noted, spoke at CPAC too. 

Democrats have other qualms with the Republican-led FCC. In December, the panel voted to overturn net neutrality regulations enforced by President Obama. The president claimed the regulations would make the internet free and fair, but the bureaucratic rules were "unnecessary and harmful to competition and consumers" and were especially burdensome to small internet providers who serve rural America, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.