The revolving door in Washington, D.C., last week got a little WD-40. Marsha J. MacBride, former lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co. and the former Federal Communications Commission chief of staff under chairman Michael Powell, was named the new head of the legal department at the National Association of Broadcasters.
"In Marsha MacBride, we have found someone with vast knowledge of broadcast-related issues who is savvy in the ways of Washington and who will be sensitive in responding to membership needs," NAB president Edward Fritts said.
In her new role, MacBride will steer the NAB's lobbying efforts at the FCC, essentially seeking favorable regulatory rulings from old colleagues for thousands of radio and television stations.
She will also help to decide when the NAB should seek relief in court.
MacBride — who starts Dec. 15 as executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs — joins the NAB as the organization wages an all-out campaign for FCC rules that would require cable carriage of multiple digital services provided by each TV station.
At the NAB convention in April 2002, MacBride told broadcasters that Powell did not think his January 2001 vote helping to kill a multicast mandate was the correct policy decision. In that vote, the FCC said the legal requirement that cable systems carry a TV station's "primary video" referred to just one channel of programming and not to several channels.
"[Powell] was persuaded, I think at that time, that the definition of primary, as used in the statute, meant one," MacBride told the NAB audience. "I do want to clarify that he then quickly went to [Capitol] Hill and told them that he didn't think that was necessarily the right policy result, and he has been very vocal on that."
In a comment that she might have to live down as the NAB's new chief regulatory advocate, MacBride went on to say that the FCC faced a "high burden" if it intended to overturn the primary video decision.
NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said FCC ethics rules would not bar MacBride from immediately lobbying the agency on DTV multicasting issues.
"We intend for Marsha's transition to NAB to comport with the highest of ethical standards. It is our understanding that there are no legal restrictions on Marsha discussing DTV related issues in FCC rulemakings. However, Marsha may decide that for a period of time, she would not have personal contact on certain issues with [FCC] personnel," Wharton said.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center of Digital Democrat who has been a vocal critic of the Powell's FCC, said senior FCC officials should have to wait five years before they are permitted to lobby old colleagues.
"I personally have nothing against Marsha, but this is selling out to the highest bidder," Chester said.
"This kind of golden revolving door is a problem. It's a very disreputable practice. You don't go around and start lobbying your old agency."
In an interview, MacBride said FCC rules bar her from representing NAB in an FCC adjudication in which she was directly involved as chief of staff. Adjudications refer to disputes between two parties. FCC rules do not forbid her from participating on NAB's behalf in ongoing rulemakings.
MacBride said that nevertheless, for a period of time, she would be very selective about lobbying on FCC issues with which she was involved while at the agency.
"I just think that is appropriate," she said.
MacBride, who has held several FCC staff positions, left Disney in January 2001 to run Powell's staff. She announced that she was leaving the FCC in August, two months after the agency liberalized broadcast-ownership rules, not all of them to the NAB's liking.
The NAB's top legal job opened up when Jeff Baumann announced his plan to retire in February after 20 years with the trade group.
MacBride is a 1985 graduate of the George Washington University Law School and a 1981 graduate of Douglass College at Rutgers University.