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FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly Violated Hatch Act Advocating for Trump Reelection

Phillip Dampier May 2, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments


FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act while speaking at the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference in February, when he appealed to the audience to reelect President Donald Trump to a second term of office, ruled the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

“Commissioner O’Rielly advocated for the reelection of President Trump in his official capacity as FCC Commissioner,” wrote Erica S. Hamrick, deputy chief of the Hatch Act Unit, in a warning letter. “Therefore, he violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect an election. Although OSC has decided to issue a warning letter in this instance, OSC has advised Commissioner O’Rielly that if in the future he engages in prohibited political activity while employed in a position covered by the Hatch Act, we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law, which could result in further action pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 1215.”

The Hatch Act was passed to stop partisan political activities of federal executive branch employees. Only the Vice-President and President are exempt. Partisan political activity or interfering or involving oneself in political activity while serving in an official capacity or authority is not appropriate. O’Rielly was found culpable because he appeared at the CPAC event as a FCC Commissioner, not a private citizen.

At one point during a panel discussion entitled, “To Infinity and Beyond: How the FCC is Paving the Way for Innovation,” O’Rielly was asked about the stark policy differences at the FCC between the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had established a busy agenda at the time, primarily revoking Obama era policies and rules. The panel’s moderator wanted to know “what can we do to avoid this regulatory ping-pong every time there is a new election.”

It was O’Rielly’s response that violated federal law:

“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. But there’s another thing you can do. We’re going to have a fight over the Obama internet rules in the next couple months in the U.S. Senate. And that’s going to matter and that vote matters, and so making sure people take the right course on that really does affect what policies we’re able to keep in place moving forward. So we can certainly use everyone’s help along those lines.”

O’Rielly defended his actions before the OSC, claiming he was not advocating for President Trump’s reelection but instead simply answering the question asked, which he thought to be on the topic of net neutrality and how to prevent a new administration from restoring Obama-era policies.

“But Commissioner O’Rielly did in fact have an answer to the moderator’s question that was not partisan – legislative action by the Senate – which he expressed only after suggesting the solution was to ‘make sure President Trump gets reelected,'” Hamrick wrote.

“I appreciate that OSC recognized that the statement in question was part of an off-the-cuff, unrehearsed response to an impromptu question, and that they found this resolution to be the appropriate consequence,” O’Rielly said in response to Hamrick’s ruling. “While I am disappointed and disagree that my offhand remark was determined to be a violation, I take their warning letter seriously.”

Sinclair Broadcasting Preparing Support for Marsha Blackburn’s (R-AT&T) Tenn. Senate Race


One of the telecom industry’s most notorious favorites – Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-AT&T), is running for departing Sen. Bob Corker’s seat in the U.S. Senate, and she will enjoy extra support from Sinclair-owned television stations across the state of Tennessee, sometimes whether those stations want to support her candidacy or not.

Blackburn has a long history supporting the corporate agendas of AT&T and Comcast, pushing for deregulation, blocks on community-owned broadband networks, and opposition to net neutrality. She is the telecom industry’s most reliable member of Congress, willing to introduce new legislation custom-written by industry lobbyists. The Tennessee Tribune noted that Blackburn’s lackluster performance in Congress as little more than an “errand boy” was foreshadowed by Blackburn herself in each of her political races:

During political events when Blackburn first ran for Congress, she said she wanted the job so she could support George W. Bush’s agenda. Later it was to fight Barrack Obama. Now, as Blackburn spokesperson Andrea Bozek told the Associated Press, “We want to ensure President Trump has a reliable vote in the U.S. Senate.”

The AP’s Feb. 14 story confirms the congressman’s consistent posture displayed in person and other ways. She’s spoken of the “leadership” she’s followed. Blackburn’s also behaved like loyal party members by holding private, invited-guests-only sessions, usually for fundraising. In recent months, she excluded the press from a program on telecommunications.

Blackburn has boldly said she’s doing what the people tell her they want. Now, she wants to be a U.S. senator.

Polls in Tennessee show Blackburn trailing against moderate Democrat Phil Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor. That has her corporate allies worried, particularly in the telecommunications and broadcasting business.

Baltimore-area based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns or runs more than 200 television stations around the United States, has been under fire for quietly inserting conservative and pro-Trump stories into the local newscasts of the stations it programs, without disclosing those stories have a deliberate spin defending the Trump Administration or various conservative causes favored by Sinclair Broadcasting’s executives. In March, Deadspin produced a video showing uncomfortable local newscasters across the country forced to read a scripted Sinclair promotion attacking the media for “fake news” — a corporate campaign that quickly won praise from President Donald Trump and scorn by media watchdog groups and many viewers.

Sinclair is the only station owner in the country that requires its stations to insert pre-produced news stories and commentaries it calls “must-runs” that do not always tell viewers in full disclosure  those segments and news stories were produced by Sinclair’s corporate owners from studios in Maryland. This fall, Sinclair plans to ramp up coverage of the 2018 mid-term elections with recently hired reporters, one who formerly worked for the Russian government-owned RT propaganda outlet, to produce political stories that will be required to air by Sinclair’s local stations nationwide. In fact, Sinclair has hundreds of job listings on help-wanted websites.

Among Sinclair’s top priorities for the fall is getting Rep. Blackburn installed in the U.S. Senate. No elected official has received greater support from Sinclair’s PAC than Blackburn. According to Poyntor, Blackburn has already received $4,500 from Sinclair this year. She is the current chair of the House Communications and Technology subcommittee, which oversees the FCC, the same agency headed by Chairman Ajit Pai that has bent over backwards for Sinclair and its efforts to acquire additional stations, including some of the biggest outlets in the country currently owned by Tribune Broadcasting. Pai is now under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general for possible collusion with Sinclair.

The New York Times’ investigation into the close relationship between Sinclair and Pai has been strengthened with evidence Pai and his staff members have frequently met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times, usually coinciding with agenda items at the telecommunications regulator that have an impact on Sinclair’s business. The meetings, including one with Sinclair’s executive chairman just days before Pai was appointed to head the FCC by President Trump, have raised eyebrows among some members of Congress, but not Rep. Blackburn.

Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former FCC official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules, the Times reported. Pai’s talking points about relaxing media ownership rules were suspiciously nearly identical to the language the lobbyist provided the agency promoting the rules change that will allow Sinclair to grow even larger.

Sinclair’s executives need Blackburn’s support to keep Congress in check as the company grows its station count well above long-standing federal station ownership caps that Pai has systematically sought to relax. Putting her in the U.S. Senate could be critical to protect Sinclair, especially if Republicans lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives in this year’s mid-term elections.

In January, Sinclair mailed letters to its station’s managers urging they quietly participate in Sinclair’s PAC, asking each to contribute up to $5,000. Sinclair will spend that money supporting candidates like Blackburn. A copy of the letter was obtained by FTVLive.

You are receiving this letter because you are eligible to participate in the Sinclair Political Action Committee (PAC), our fund that supports candidates for Congress who can influence the future of broadcasting. The Federal Election Commission strictly defines who may participate, and not everyone in the company meets these qualifications, so please do not forward this letter to anyone.

[…] Since the change in administration last year, we now have an FCC chairman who appreciates the important role of local broadcasting enough to launch a number of politically unpopular deregulatory initiatives necessary to ensure the future of our industry. In response, there have been Congressional efforts to counter those actions, such as a legislative proposal to eliminate the UHF discount, which will prevent any broadcaster from meaningful growth in the future. […] We need allies in Congress who understand the role of local television  and who are willing to defend it in today’s ever-changing landscape.

Corporate contributions to federal candidates are prohibited by law, but our PAC is a legally acceptable way for eligible Sinclair employees to make our collective voice heard in the electoral process.

In addition to direct financial support, Sinclair is expected to produce additional news stories and commentaries it will force-air on its stations that echo the themes and views of the candidates the company supports. Sinclair owns five stations in Nashville and Chattanooga and will own a sixth in Memphis if the FCC approves Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune-owned television stations.

Sinclair’s Tennessee stations are already loaded with Sinclair’s editorials and slanted news coverage pieces that are required to air as part of the stations’ local newscasts. But some stations also air extra weekly news shows that swing to the right, including one hosted by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, who bought television stations through his entity Howard Stirk Holdings, using Sinclair’s money and contracts with Sinclair to run “his” stations.

WTVC (NewsChannel 9) and WFLI (The CW) in Chattanooga

WZTV (Fox 17), WUXP (My30), and WNAB (CW58) in Nashville

  • Sinclair-owned WZTV (Fox 17) also regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and the weekly show Full Measure.
  • Sinclair-owned WUXP (My30) shares a main studio address with Fox 17 and re-airs at least some of Fox 17’s local news programming.
  • Nashville Broadcasting-owned WNAB (The CW58) “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group” and also shares a main studio address with Fox 17 and My30. It does not appear to regularly air news programming.

Coming soon: WREG (News Channel 3) in Memphis

  • WREG (News Channel 3) in Memphis is currently owned by Tribune Media but will soon be owned by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.

(programming details courtesy of Media Matters)

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) Introduces Companion Bill for FAKE Net Neutrality

Sen. Kennedy (R-La.)

Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) today introduced a companion bill that broadly copies an industry-favoring, fake net neutrality protection bill introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

The Open Internet Preservation Act is essentially the Senate version of Blackburn’s House bill, bringing along all the major flaws and industry favoritism one expects from Blackburn, a notorious defender of large telephone and cable companies and a favorite target for their campaign contributions.

Blackburn was naturally delighted.

“Sen. Kennedy brings leadership and focus to this discussion of preserving a free and open internet,” Blackburn said in a statement. ” I appreciate his work and his attention to this issue.  Title II 1930s era regulation was a heavy-handed approach that would stifle innovation and investment. This legislation will go a long way toward achieving the goal of protecting consumers.”

Kennedy made sweeping claims about the power of his bill to protect consumers — power not actually in his bill.

“Some cable companies and content providers aren’t going to be happy with this bill because it prohibits them from blocking and throttling web content,” Kennedy said in a statement. “They won’t be able to micromanage your web surfing or punish you for downloading 50 movies each month. This bill strikes a compromise that benefits the consumer.”

Except it won’t. We expect no cable company will oppose a measure that is based largely on the recommendations from the cable industry itself. Nothing in the bill would prohibit Comcast, AT&T, or other companies from “punishing” you for downloading 50 movies each month with a much higher bill as a result of exceeding your data cap and facing punitive overlimit fees.

Read Stop the Cap!’s detailed analysis of Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s net neutrality bill.

Even Kennedy admits his bill isn’t perfect, and considering it is based on a bill introduced by Rep. Blackburn that we analyzed last year, Kennedy is being modest.

“If the Democrats are serious about this issue and finding a permanent solution, then they should come to the table and work with me and Rep. Blackburn on these bills,” said Kennedy. “Does this bill resolve every issue in the net neutrality debate? No, it doesn’t. It’s not a silver bullet. But it’s a good start.”

It’s actually a very bad start, in our view. The industry would like to declare the net neutrality issue ‘settled’ with the passage of a bill it effectively wrote itself.

We urge readers to vehemently oppose both measures, which represent net neutrality in name-only. The best way to find a permanent solution for preserving real net neutrality will come at the next election, when voters can replace lawmakers that represent the interests of big telecom companies over those of their constituents. Allowing either fake net neutrality measure to proceed will make it exponentially more difficult to raise the issue in the future.

Comcast Needed Help to Let Them Know Their Broadband Pipes Were Full

The country’s largest cable internet service provider needed help from an app developer in Portland, Ore. to let it know its broadband pipes were full and to do something about it.

Comcast customers were complaining about slow downloads from the Panic website and the company’s own workers were saying largely the same thing when attempting to remotely connect to the company’s servers from home.

Because Panic’s web servers have just a single connection to the internet via Cogent, it would be a simple matter to track down where the traffic bottleneck was occurring, assuming there was one. The company asked for volunteers to run a test transferring 20MB of data first from Panic’s server and then again from a control server hosted with Linode, a popular and well-respected hosting company.

The results were pretty stunning.

With speeds often around only 356.3kbps for Comcast customers connecting to Panic, something was definitely up. It also explained why employees had a rough time connecting to the company’s server as well — Panic’s workers are based in Portland, Ore., where Comcast is used by almost every employee.

The slowdowns were not related to the time of day and because the problem persisted for weeks, it wasn’t a temporary technical fault. Panic’s blog picks up the story about what is behind all this:


Major internet pipes, like Cogent, have peering agreements with network providers, like Comcast. These companies need each other — Cogent can’t exist if their network doesn’t go all the way to the end user, and Comcast can’t exist if they can’t send their customer’s data all over the world. One core tenet of peering is that it is “settlement-free” — neither party pays the other party to exchange their traffic. Instead, each party generates revenue from their customers. Cogent generates revenue from us. Comcast generates revenue from us at home. Everyone wins, right?

After a quick Google session, I learned that Cogent and Comcast have quite a storied history. This history started when Cogent started delivering a great deal of video content to Comcast customers… content from Netflix. and suddenly, the “peering pipe” that connects Cogent and Comcast filled up and slowed dramatically down.

Normally when these peering pipes “fill up”, more capacity is added between the two companies. But, if you believe Cogent’s side of the story, Comcast simply decided not to play ball — and refused to add any additional bandwidth unless Cogent paid them. In other words, Comcast didn’t like being paid nothing to deliver Netflix traffic, which competes with its own TV and streaming offerings. This Ars Technica article covers it well. (How did Netflix solve this problem in 2014? Netflix entered into a business agreement to pay Comcast directly. And suddenly, more peering bandwidth opened up between Comcast and Cogent, like magic.)

We felt certain history was repeating itself: the peering connection between Comcast and Cogent was once again saturated. Cogent said their hands were tied. What now?

In addition to giving the internet public policy community new evidence that peering fights leaving customers stuck in the middle might be heating up once again. It also suggests if Comcast was unaware of the problem, it does not reflect well on the cable company to wait weeks until a customer reports such a serious slowdown before fixing it.

The folks at Panic took a chance and reported the problem to Comcast, bypassing the usual customer support route in favor of a corporate contact who listed a direct email address on the company’s website. Comcast took the request seriously and eventually responded, “give us one to two weeks, and if you re-run your test I think you’ll be happy with the results.”

Indeed, the problem was fixed. The folks at Panic say according to Comcast, two primary changes were made:

  1. Comcast added more capacity for Cogent traffic. (As suspected, the pipe was full.)
  2. Cogent made some unspecified changes to their traffic engineering.

The folks at Panic and their users are happy that the problem is fixed, but some questions remain:

  1. Is Comcast intentionally throttling web traffic in an attempt to extract a more favorable peering agreement with Cogent?
  2. How could Comcast not know this particular connection was hopelessly over-capacity for several weeks, leaving customers to deal with heavily throttled traffic.

“While this story amazingly had a happy ending, I’m not looking forward to the next time we’re stuck in the middle of a peering dispute between two companies,” wrote Cabel. “It feels absolutely inevitable, all the more so now that net neutrality is gone. Here’s hoping the next time it happens, the responsible party is as responsive as Comcast was this time.”

Panic explains internet slowdowns resulting from peering disputes in this (3:30) video.

Republican FCC Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly Get Ethics Complaints, Investigations

Phillip Dampier March 2, 2018 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Video No Comments

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation by the Inspector General of the Federal Communications Commission after being alleged of improperly taking actions to benefit Sinclair Broadcast Group, while one of his colleagues, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, is the subject of an ethics complaint after allegedly violating the Hatch Act by openly advocating for the re-election of President Donald Trump.

Pai’s actions as head of the FCC under the Trump Administration have been under scrutiny by some members of Congress since last fall. Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) signed a joint letter addressed to FCC Inspector General James Hunt last November requesting an investigation after they claimed Chairman Pai “has repeatedly refused to adequately respond to Congressional inquiries” on the matter.

Pallone and Cummings noted press reports that Pai specifically timed certain FCC regulatory actions to directly benefit Sinclair, seen as politically friendly to the Trump Administration and Republicans. As evidence, they included multiple examples of suspiciously timed regulatory changes that seemed to coincide with Sinclair’s business deals and the company’s lobbying efforts in Washington:

Sinclair-Bonten License Transfer Application

Chairman Pai rescinded a guidance in February (2017), effectively loosening the scrutiny the FCC’s staff applied to deals that could skirt local TV ownership restrictions by using a sharing agreement (effectively allowing Sinclair to control stations owned by another company). The FCC approved a deal three months later where Sinclair used several of these sharing agreements, potentially to circumvent the rules.


Reinstatement of the UHF Discount Rule

Press reports indicated in March, 2017, Sinclair was in talks with Tribune Media Company about a potential merger, but analysts remarked the deal would likely require the FCC to reinstate an outdated rule called the “UHF discount.” This rule, left over from the days of analog television and finally rescinded in 2016, did not count UHF television stations above Channel 13 the same as VHF stations (Chs. 2-13) when defining how many TV stations a single company can own. The theory behind the discount was that analog UHF reception was more difficult and, as a result, such stations were less valuable than their lower channel counterparts. But digital television largely erased that distinction because UHF reception has improved, TV stations can be “mapped” by digital tuners to any channel number, and, in some areas, digital VHF stations suffer more reception problems than UHF stations do.

Chairman Pai suddenly announced his plan to reinstate the outdated UHF discount rule the same month Sinclair began talks with Tribune. Sinclair announced its proposed acquisition of Tribune’s TV stations just two weeks after the FCC reinstated the UHF discount. If approved, the transaction would solidify Sinclair as the country’s largest TV group owner with a potential to reach 70% of the country, which is far in excess of the current 39% limit.

LG’s Ultra High Definition (UHD) televisions support ATSC 3.0, and were demonstrated at the 2017 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Next Gen TV (ATSC 3.0)

Sinclair has been one of the main proponents of the ATSC 3,0 (also known as “Next Gen TV”) transition, and its subsidiary holds patents that reports indicate could provide billions of dollars in licensing fees to Sinclair. Chairman Pai announced during his first full month in office a proposal to allow the TV industry to accelerate a transition to the new standard.

Since that time, the FCC has pushed ATSC 3.0 forward and the new technology has begun to be tested in the United States. Some consumer groups worry the new technology will be costly if consumers cannot afford or find converter boxes for existing televisions, although ATSC 3.0 proponents promise stations will continue to broadcast a Standard Definition version of existing TV stations for at least five years after the transition begins.

New televisions supporting the standard have already gone on sale in South Korea at prices ranging from around $900-$1,500US. The government is subsidizing TV station owners a minimum of $1.75 billion as part of a TV station repack that will precede the introduction of ATSC 3.0. But no subsidies will be given to consumers. Those buying ATSC 3.0 tuners or televisions will do so out of their own pocket if they wish to continue watching over-the-air stations. Sinclair will also get a royalty payment for each new television or tuner sold.

Main Studio Rule

The FCC voted last October to eliminate rules requiring a local broadcast station to maintain a physical presence in the market in which it operates. This means a station could deliver programming to a station’s transmitter from another city, with no local programming or personnel. This move would make Sinclair’s potential merger even more profitable by eliminating many of the costs of maintaining local stations, particularly labor and news-gathering costs.

Broadcast Ownership Rules

Chairman Pai plans to significantly change the existing broadcast media ownership limits. This would clear away virtually all remaining obstacles to Sinclair increasing its reach beyond the Tribune merger proposal and acquire still more television stations. Sinclair has carefully prepared for this eventuality by contractually obligating the new owner(s) of stations Sinclair is required to sell to remain under whatever ownership cap still exists to sell those stations back to Sinclair if and when Sinclair requests it.

According to the two Democrats, “all of these actions — when taken in context with reported meetings between the Trump Administration, Sinclair, and Chairman Pai’s office — have raised serious concerns about whether Pai’s actions comply with the FCC’s mandate to be independent.”

Pai’s critics are also concerned about the increased partisanship of the chairman and another Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Both turned up at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland last week.

The NRA’s “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” for Ajit Pai’s Assassination of Net Neutrality Includes a Kentucky Long Gun

Pai at CPAC

When Pai arrived on stage to deliver a short speech, Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC, took the microphone to introduce the FCC chairman.

“Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know,” Schneider said. “He has received countless death threats. His property has been invaded by the George Soros crowd. He has a family, and his family has been abused in different ways. Chairman Pai, thank you for everything you’ve done.”

He then turned the podium over to Carolyn Meadows, second vice president of the National Rifle Association, who surprised Pai with the NRA’s “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award,” a rare honor given only to firebrand conservatives willing to push through their political agenda regardless of criticism or voter backlash. Pai was being recognized for ignoring the comments of tens of millions of supporters of net neutrality and pushing through a complete repeal of the open internet rules, regardless of the possible political consequences.

Previous award winners include controversial former Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., Undersecretary John Bolton, who once threw a tape dispenser at a female government contractor and chased her down a Moscow hotel hallway, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and Vice President Mike Pence.

The honor included a “Kentucky hand-made long gun,” said Meadows, who promised to store the gun for Pai at an NRA museum. That prompted a Tweet from the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, claiming Pai’s gun award likely violated federal ethics rules.

As criticism of the FCC chairman grew, Pai’s office sent letters on Thursday to both the NRA and the American Conservative Union declining the handmade weapon. Pai indirectly blamed the NRA, claiming his staff has asked at the event that the gun not be given to him. But the NRA came up with its own compromise, storing the gun until Pai left office.

“As you know, once my staff became aware of what was happening, they asked backstage that the musket not be presented to me to ensure that this could be first discussed with and vetted by career ethics attorneys in the FCC’s Office of General Counsel,” Pai wrote, an FCC source told Politico. “Therefore, upon their counsel, I must respectfully decline the award. I have also been advised by the FCC’s career ethics attorneys that I would not be able to accept the award upon my departure from government service.”

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Calls for the Re-Election of President Trump and Violates the Hatch Act


At the same CPAC event, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also managed to find himself the subject of controversy in response to a question.

Q. What can the FCC do to stop the constant “ping pong” of issues, like net neutrality, every time the party in power changes in the nation’s capital?
A. “I think what we can do is make sure as conservatives that we elect good people to both the House, Senate and make sure that President Trump gets re-elected,” O’Rielly answered.

Experts claim O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials from engaging in certain forms of political activity. Telling the public to re-elect President Trump counts as a violation.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) already warned government officials so steer clear of President Trump’s already announced 2020 re-election campaign. In short, the Hatch Act “prohibits federal employees, while on duty or in the workplace, from expressly advocating for or against his reelection in 2020,” the OSC wrote in a guidance memo distributed to all federal agencies.

American Oversight, a group that monitors ethics issues in Washington, filed a formal complaint with the OSC against O’Rielly on Feb. 23:

“American Oversight respectfully requests that the Office of Special Counsel (“OSC”) immediately open an investigation into whether Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), violated the Hatch Act during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, February 23, 2018. We do not believe this presents a hard question.

“Appearing in his capacity as a commissioner of the FCC, Commissioner O’Rielly improperly engaged in partisan political activity by expressly advocating for the re-election of Donald Trump
and exhorting the crowd to “elect good people to the House [and] the Senate.” Specifically, during the panel discussion, Commissioner O’Reilly delivered the following remarks:

“‘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 re-elected. But there’s another thing you can do. We’re going to have a fight over the Obama internet rules in the next couple months in the U.S. Senate. And that’s going to matter and that vote matters, and so making sure people take the right course on that, really does affect what policies we’re able to keep in place moving forward. So we can certainly use everyone’s help along those lines.’

“These remarks, made in Commissioner O’Rielly’s capacity as a commissioner at the FCC, constitute prohibited partisan political activity under the Hatch Act. As you know, the Hatch Act generally prohibits federal officials from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty. Advocating for the election of a candidate in a partisan election is the classic example of such prohibited activity.”

“The FCC controls our airwaves, the internet, and so many of the things we interact with every single day,” said Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight. “It should be independent, it should not be partisan, and bottom line, it should obey the law.”

Another group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is also reviewing the event.

“This certainly raises Hatch Act issues,” spokesman Jordan Libowitz told the Chicago Tribune. “[O’Rielly] is prohibited from taking part in partisan political activity using his official title or position.”

“The Young Turks” explain Ajit Pai’s attack on net neutrality and the award the NRA gave him for killing it. (7:16)

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