Policy

Sources: Sen. Cruz Setting Up Meeting with Wheeler

FCC Chair Nominee Expected to 'Revisit' Lawmaker's Questions about Political Ad Disclosures 10/23/2013 1:30 PM Eastern

According to sources, a meeting is being set up between Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Tex.) and Tom Wheeler, the president's nominee for FCC chairman, possibly for Oct. 29.

The senator's office would not comment on that date, but a spokesperson said: "Our office has been working on a time to meet with Mr. Wheeler. We are hopeful that will be possible in the near future and look forward to having our questions answered."

If the senator likes what he hears, the FCC could finally get a new chairman and Republican member.

Sen. Cruz put a hold on Wheeler's nomination over the issue of political ad disclosures. Cruz does not want the FCC to use its authority to boost disclosures of the funders of political ads, something Democrats sought after their failure to do so via the DISCLOSE Act.

Wheeler has at least twice responded to Cruz's concerns, but his answers were insufficient both times--at Wheeler's nomination hearing an in a follow-up written answer (see below)

In confirming the hold, (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/496104-It_s_Official_Cruz_Puts_...), Cruz Communications Director Sean Rushton had said last week that Wheeler had expressed a readiness to "revisit the Senator's questions," and that Cruz "hoped to communicate with him soon."

The FCC has been at three commissioners--down from five--since May with the departure of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Republican nominee Robert McDowell. The nomination of McDowell's replacement, Michael O'Rielly, is also in limbo since the Democrats will not vote to confirm him until the hold on Wheeler is lifted and both can get full Senate votes. Both have been voted out of the Senate Commerce Committee, O'Rielly by unanimous consent and Wheeler with only one no vote, Cruz's.

At a Media Institute dinner in Washington Tuesday night (Oct. 22), keynote speaker and acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn jokingly thanked the person without whom she could not be in attendance in that post: Ted Cruz.

Here are Sen. Cruz's multi-part follow-up questions after the nomination hearing, and Wheeler's written answer, according to the Senator's office at the time.

Cruz

“ In our meeting prior to your confirmation hearing, I asked you if the FCC has the authority to implement the requirements of the failed Congressional DISCLOSE Act through rulemaking- that time, and again during your confirmation hearing, you declined to directly answer the question, stating that you needed more time.

a.    Now that you have had that time, and time again following the hearing, I’d like a specific answer: does the FCC have the authority to implement the kind of requirements laid out in the DISCLOSE Act?

b.    When it comes to the issue of regulating political speech, which institution do you believe has primary authority in this area-- Congress or the FCC?

c.    To the extent that you believe the FCC has the legal authority to regulate political speech, what statutory provision or provisions would you point to as the basis for that authority?

d.    To the extent that you believe the FCC has the legal authority to regulate political speech, what principles would guide your decisions on when limitations on political speech are justified?

With regard to any potential FCC regulation involving political speech, how confident are you that the FCC’s involvement in this area could be accomplished while preventing the kinds of abuses that we’ve discovered were prevalent at the IRS?

e.    To the extent that you believe that both Congress and the FCC have the ability to regulate political speech, how would the FCC, under your leadership, proceed with reconciling any differences in approach between the two bodies?"

Wheeler

“The Commission has the authority Congress grants it by statute and the Commission, in interpreting that authority, must respect the First Amendment. The Commission’s authority is found in the statutes Congress has enacted, principally the Communications Act, as amended.

“Congress has delegated to the Commission certain disclosure responsibilities related to sponsorship identification (Sec. 317) and political disclosure (Sec. 315). These are provisions that have been in place since the Commission’s inception in 1934 and were previously implemented by its predecessor, the Federal Radio Commission, since 1927.  In determining the scope of those provisions, I will be guided by the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, Congress’ directives under the Communications Act, and legal precedent.

“As I mentioned at the hearing, I am mindful of the fact that the scope of these disclosure provisions is an area of policymaking tension within Congress and in the public at large. If confirmed, I look forward to working with you and others on the Committee on all matters of the Commission’s responsibilities, in order best to achieve the shared goals of promoting economic opportunity and investment in the dynamic communications sector.”

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