The National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association top the list of trade groups that funded business travel by Federal Communications Commission personnel over the past eight years.
In a report released last Thursday, the Center for Public Integrity said private organizations like the NAB and NCTA combined to spend $2.8 million to fund more than 2,500 trips by FCC members and staff since May 1995.
331 paid trips
Topping the list was the NAB, which funded 206 trips costing about $191,000, followed by the NCTA, with 125 trips valued at about $173,000. Both the NAB and NCTA stage annual conventions that attract thousands of attendees and numerous FCC officials.
The report, titled "Well-Connected," suggests that by accepting industry-financed trips, FCC personnel grow too close to the companies they are required to regulate.
"The report is astonishing, because it reveals more than ever before just how incestuous the relationship is between the [FCC] and the broadcasting and cable industries it is supposed to regulate," said CPI executive director Charles Lewis. "The idea that the FCC can render an objective, independent judgment about media ownership is laughable."
FCC spokesman David Fiske said the trips, all cleared by FCC ethics officials, help broaden the knowledge of agency personnel who travel to conventions and conferences.
"The commission feels that by going outside the Beltway, they are not captive to the Beltway," Fiske said.
NCTA spokesman Rob Stoddard defended funding FCC trips as a worthwhile effort to ensure that commission officials gain a better understanding of a complex cable industry.
"We believe attendance at major trade shows is one of the most efficient ways for a policy maker to gain insight into the dynamics and operations of our business," Stoddard said. "Policy-makers who attend face a rigorous schedule of speaking engagements, fact finding and meetings with industry executives."
In June, FCC chairman Michael Powell is scheduled to make his third consecutive appearance at the NCTA's National Show in Chicago. Powell aides and other FCC officials are also scheduled to attend.
An NAB spokesman declined comment.
Viva Las Vegas
The CPI report said the top domestic destinations of FCC staff were Las Vegas, 330 trips; New Orleans, 173; New York City, 102; Chicago 87; and Atlanta, 60. And the top foreign destinations were the United Kingdom, 102 trips; France, 21; Canada, 21; China, 20; and Brazil, 17.
The FCC's two most widely traveled staff members were Roy Stewart, with 107 trips, and Robert Pepper, with 104 trips. Stewart, former head of the Mass Media Bureau, is the chief of the Office of Broadcast License Policy in that bureau.
Pepper, former chief of the Office of Plans and Policy, is the FCC's chief of policy development in the recently created Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.
The report was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute, the CPI said.
|<p>The Next Eight</p>||<p>Other top sponsors of FCC trips, and amounts spent over the past eight years:</p>|
Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Assn.
California Cable Television Assn.
Institute for International Research
Assn. of Local Television Stations & National Assn. of Television Program Executives
Federal Communications Bar Assn.
Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Assn.
Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers