Editor’s note:Last week, the lead item in the Through The Wire column, penned by Washington News Editor Ted Hearn, took former Federal Communications Commission chairmen Reed Hundt and William Kennard to task for suffering selective amnesia when it came to certain statements about Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and his support for telecommunications mergers and lack of leadership in telecommunications legislation. Hundt and Kennard are supporters of McCain’s Democratic rival for president, Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.). Herewith, a rebuttal from Hundt and Kennard. For more on the subject please see Ted Hearn’s blog, Capital Ideas, on Multichannel.com.
Ted Hearn’s recent article (Through the Wire, “Hundt, Kennard Suffer From Selective Amnesia,” July 7, 2008, page 4) accuses us of offering a selective reading of history to characterize the record of Sen. John McCain. Hearn challenges two statements we have made about McCain’s record as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. First, that McCain supported every media and telecom merger that crossed his path in the Senate. And second, that McCain failed to shepherd any major media or telecom legislation through the Congress while he was chairman. In both cases, the facts demonstrate that our memories serve us well.
On the merger question, Hearn relies on a McCain quote about the AT&T-MediaOne Group merger. McCain did not stand in the way of the major mergers that he oversaw in his time as Commerce Committee chairman. He presided over some of the largest mergers in telecom history, including the conglomeration of the Baby Bells into a virtual reconstitution of the old Ma Bell.
It is true that McCain sometimes asserted that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (a bipartisan bill that he aggressively opposed) was responsible for mergers, although nothing in that law affected the review standards of either the Department of Justice or the FTC. But McCain’s actions with respect to the AT&T-MediaOne merger deserve special scrutiny.
The AT&T-MediaOne merger was announced on April 26, 1999. Shortly thereafter, McCain reportedly announced that he would conduct an oversight hearing on mergers in general to take place on June 17. On May 26, McCain introduced a bill (S. 1125) to strip the commission of authority to conduct merger reviews at all, claiming that the DOJ’s anti-trust analysis was sufficient and the FCC didn’t need to undergo a public-interest review. In this way, he sought to relax review of mergers, not even to maintain the extant level of two-step scrutiny.
Meanwhile, he was on the presidential campaign trail taking major contributions from telecom and cable giants, including AT&T. Within two weeks of the introduction of his bill, 10 AT&T executives had made maximum $1,000 contributions to the campaign.
The Center for Public Integrity — campaign-finance watchdog — saw enough there to author a long article about the appearance of impropriety in the McCain campaign. In any event, the oversight hearing he scheduled for June 17 was delayed until Nov. 8. McCain raised no serious objections. The merger was approved the following June.
Hearn also claims that we have overlooked McCain’s leadership in the passage of the Satellite Home Viewers Improvement Act of 1999. It is true that McCain was involved in this legislation. However, McCain actually opposed final passage of the bill. Failing to oppose successfully is not leadership, in our view.