New Bill Would Prevent FCC Commissioners From Jumping Ship To Companies Whose Mergers They Just Approved

Remember last May when then-FCC commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker (pictured at left) ruffled a lot of feathers by taking a job at Comcast, only a few months after approving the cable company’s controversial merger with NBC? Well, Congresswoman Maxine Waters hasn’t forgotten, and she’s introduced legislation aimed at preventing these kinds of obvious shenanigans.

Dubbed the FCC Merging Entities Regulatory Guidance and Ethical Reform (yes, it spells “MERGER”) Act of 2011, the bill would prevent FCC commissioners from jumping ship to go work for any company on which the commission had made some sort of decision within the previous year.

“Although the Republicans continue to focus their FCC reform agenda on deregulation and aggressive efforts to diminish the Commission’s capacity to implement rules and reject mergers,” said Waters. “I strongly believe that the FCC should review its public comment process and assess whether improvements can be made to promote greater transparency and accountability.”

We wonder if the new law, if enacted, would do anything to stop any of the current commishes from leaving to go work for AT&T, since the FCC never actually arrived at a decision before the Death Star backed out of its plan to purchase T-Mobile USA.

Waters Introduces FCC Reform Bill [Broadcasting & Cable]

Thanks to CAT for the tip!

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  1. axhandler1 says:

    How is this different than senators and congressmen voting on legislation that impacts companies from whom they’ve received large campaign contributions? This is just more obvious.

    • tiredofit says:

      Companies can’t donate to members of Congress.

      • Rachacha says:

        True, but the entire Corporate leadership team and the entire Board of Directors could donate, and organize a large fundraiser for that Candidate and conveniently a bill impacting their employer is up for vote.

      • Buckus says:

        Uhm…look up Citizens United. Companies can, in fact, donate unlimited funds to campaign coffers, and it doesn’t have to be disclosed. For all we know, BOA is giving $100 Million to Newt’s election campaign, but we’d never know it, nor we would be allowed to know it.

        • Slader says:

          LOL… Actually they will most likely continue to give their donations to the Democratic party.

        • bwcbwc says:

          And then the campaign can hire pretty much whoever the hell they want as a consultant or contract worker. It’s a tidy little money-laundering scheme as long as you’re patient and don’t try to pay your “consultants” too high an hourly rate, and they actually have some skill related to the job–like being able to dial a phone.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      Or when elected (or appointed) officials still own stock in the company. Studies show Congressman and Senators consistently beat the market, yet they continue to stall eliminating the loophole that allows them to do it. The latest delay came from Mr. Middle Class himself, Eric Cantor, who is known to have quite the portfolio and a wife who worked for Goldman Sachs and is now a plotting to ruin the Virginia Retirement System.

      Or you can be Donald Rumsfeld and just delay filing the paperwork while you are personally involved in procuring anthrax vaccine from a company you own a bunch of stock in.

  2. CoachTabe says:

    1 year isn’t long enough. Should be 5 or more.

    • Turn-n-Burn says:

      Couldn’t agree more, that’s the first thing I thought too.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Seconded

    • Buckus says:

      Should be indefinitely, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’m sure some FCC type would complain that their job options are limited after their work at the FCC. But longer than a year would be better.

    • hansolo247 says:

      I think Maxine wants to show that she’s doing SOMETHING, yet not piss off the contributors.

      A win-win for her. A “meh, whatever” in reality

  3. tiredofit says:

    Why so focused? Why not just make that rule for government employees not being allowed to work for businesses they had on their desk — including Congress-critters!

    • Rachacha says:

      Or what about people leaving a company and going to work for the government agency that regulates them?

      I used to work in the private sector in a very specific industry, in a round about way, I ended up working for a government regulator in the office that regulates my former employer. I was seperated from my industry job for over 5 years before I touched anything having to do with my former employer, and when I was dealing with people I used to work with who left to go to other jobs in the industry, I made it a point to advise my supervisors that I knew the individual and the nature of my relationship with that person. While there was no legal requirement to do this, I felt is was necessary to ensure that any potential conflict of interest was made clear to my supervisors, and it helped to build a barrier so my former employer could not ask any “favors” from me as everything from them was handed off to one of my coworkers.

    • Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

      There are actually laws and regs in place to guard against that and us normal folk can get in a lot of trouble if we run afoul of them. It’s just not apparently enforced for high-level gov execs and Congress critters, apparently.

  4. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    So it prevents them from going to work for them, does it do anything to prevent “gifts” such as stock, etc?

    • Rachacha says:

      There are laws aready in place that prevent a government Employee for accepting a gift from outside parties.

  5. Cat says:

    Merging Entities Regulatory Guidance and Ethical Reform (“MERGER”) Act of 2011

    The government’s double speak acronyms are killing me.

    You would think the ‘JOBS Act’ would have something to do with JOBS. But it’s the ‚ÄúJumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act‚Äù, allowing the federal government auction of TV broadcast spectrum to wireless internet and cell phone providers – thus helping the FCC to continue on its mission to eliminate free broadcast TV by any means possible.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “thus helping the FCC to continue on its mission to stop wasting massive amounts of spectrum on hugely inefficient giveaways to for-profit broadcasters whose OTA viewership has dropped to well below 10% of the population.”

      • Cat says:

        Where? According to Whom? You’ve been drinking the Kabeltown‚Ñ¢ Brand Kool-Aid again, haven’t you?

        In some areas it’s as high as 30+%, and it’s climbing as people cut the cord in numbers larger than they are willing to admit. TV antennas have been the hot “new” video accessory since the launch of HD digital TV 3 years ago. Antenna manufacturers are turning record profits and expanding their business, while the rest of the economy drags…

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          According to basic math.

          114MM TV households in the US (Nielsen)
          DIRECTV: 19MM
          DISH: 14MM
          Cable: 58MM
          AT&T+Verizon: 9MM
          Other telco, C-band dish, etc: 1-2MM

          Remaining: 12-13MM (~11% of total)

          So, we’re using a huge block of prime spectrum to serve 11% of households, instead of the 90%+ of US households who use cellphones. It’s a bad allocation of a scarce resource. If you disagree, then you should have no issue with just putting the spectrum up for auction, since, if it generates more value for broadcast TV, then the TV broadcasters should be happy to outbid the wireless operators.

          • rooben says:

            There would have to be a USF for cable TV, for anyone to cut off the 12 million households who cant affored, or have no access to cable.

            There are a lot of people who rely on broadcast for news and weather information. They would have to be cared for, profits be damned.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          BTW, even the broadcasters support the incentive auction part of the JOBS act. It would let them generate huge profits by selling spectrum that they got from the government for free.

  6. r-nice says:

    It could use some tweaks but this is a good start.

  7. jeni1122 says:

    So, rules of conflict of interest were ethics related before and now they are actually going to try and change them into a law.

    Now that I think about it, I remember back when I was taking business classes in college, conflict of interested was always brought up as an ethics issue and never necessarily a legal one.

    I think this could be a good idea especially for public figures, but I have a feeling it will never pass. I have a feeling this is more common than we realize.

  8. Firevine says:

    New bill will not pass in either chamber of Congress. Story at 11:00.

  9. Rachacha says:

    Lets say that this bill goes forard and is passed, would it prevent a high ranking official from leaving the government and setting up a consulting business (very common practice) and then having the company pay the company for consulting services? If not, then the proposed bill is useless.

    • Tim says:

      Why shouldn’t that be allowed? If it isn’t allowed, the most knowledgeable people will think twice about entering government service, because they’ll know that they’ll have to get an unrelated job completely outside of their field when they resign. Therefore, you’ll only get people who wouldn’t be qualified for those private-sector jobs filling the government jobs.

      • Rachacha says:

        I’m not saying that it shouldn’t, I was simply pointing out a loophole that will be easily exploited. Another possible loophole would be verbal discussions about a potential job offer should the regulator leave. The regulator quits and then a week later is approached by the company about a potential job offer. At the time of accepting the position (and the first written record of the offer), the person was not a Government employee, therefore no ethics riles were broken.

        Personally, I have no problems with a government regulator accepting a job in the private sector provided that they followed the letter of the law during their rime as a regulator. Knowing how many levels of clearance are required for any 1 person to do anything in the government, it would be difficult to throw a vote in exchange for a favor. I do think that if someone goes from the private sector to a regulator position, they should recuse themselves from any potential conflicts of interest for several years, but there are already established rules that cover this.

  10. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Seeing this from Maxine Waters is just hysterical, given her track record. In fairness, though, maybe Waters thinks that FCC Commissioners should be like her, and profit from their offices WHILE they’re in office by steering government business (and government bailout money, a la OneUnited) to companies their families control, rather than waiting until they’re out of office to cash in.

  11. AllanG54 says:

    This happened years ago when the gal who was on the defense procurement committee pushed for a contract with Boeing and then as soon as they got it she quit and went to work for them. The CEO of Boeing had to resign and she got fired. It was a hell of a scandal for awhile. So, this law should be mandatory. Hell, how many senators lose elections or retire and then become lobbyists because they’re so familiar with the people and the inner workings of politics.

  12. Tim says:

    People in most of the country don’t understand how government service works. It’s much more than the private sector than you might think.

    The best government employees have a well-rounded background in their field. For example, a good research doctor probably went to a good school for undergrad and medical school, a good residency and at least a few years of research in the private sector and academia.

    Similarly, the best private-sector employees who work in companies’ government affairs departments are well-rounded in the field they work for and in the governance of that field. That probably means having worked for an agency, a congressman or something along those lines.

    And this is how the job market works. The best employees have the best experience. What happens if you restrict the best employees from seeking the best work? You’ll probably get worse employees in the government, because the private sector is much more able to increase their salaries to compete with the government. Then you’ll have a government full of ineffective employees who don’t know their fields, and I guess it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy for those of you who hate government employees.

    Everybody benefits when the government has the best employees. Why restrict that?

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      this is going in the other direction and has nothing to do with “the best employees” it has to do with rewards for passing bills. The passing of a bill should, in some way, be a reward for us, the people that vote for these folks or the country in general. politicians can be rewarded by being re-elected.

      • Rachacha says:

        But in this situation 5 FCC Commisioners voted on the merger.Ms. Baker’s vote was just one of the 5, so collectively the commission must not have thought that the merger was a terrible idea as the merger was approved 3-2

        • consumeristjohnny says:

          So if Ms Bakers vote was originally going to be a no, then suddenly a quid pro quo conversation that starts something like “Hey, we have an opening for a position as a senior regulatory advisor that pays double what you make now” happens, you are ok with it? I don’t like the fact that the FCC was given the authority with 5 non-elected commissioners to decide these types of things.

        • OnePumpChump says:

          Do I need to recalibrate my sarcasmometer?

        • bwcbwc says:

          Every vote in the FCC is 3-2. There are guaranteed 2 democrats and 2 republicans and the 5th seat is whoever the president and senate can agree upon.

          So another way of looking at this is that Ms. Baker cast the deciding vote in a tie.

  13. Costner says:

    Doesn’t matter. Eric Cantor won’t allow a bill like this to even be brought up for debate. Just like he wouldn’t allow the bill that prevents members of Congress from investing in companies that are impacted by pending or proposed legislation.

    That guy is a creep. He doesn’t serve the citizens – he serves his corporate handlers and the minute he is out of office he will be working either as a multi-million dollar lobbyist, or as an executive for one of the nation’s largest companies.

  14. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    This is a knee-jerk reaction to something that was blown out of proportion. Everything I’ve read about this woman leads me to believe she would have voted the way she voted based on her ideology. There is no reason to believe her vote was influenced by a job prospect that didn’t even exist when she voted.

    It *looks* bad so of course it was used to rile up the uninformed, but there was nothing nefarious there.

  15. balderdashed says:

    Good idea — but one year is not long enough. If Baker had been a hairdresser working at a salon, or a professional in any number of fields, it’s not unlikely that she would have been asked to sign a “noncompete” clause as a condition of employment. Such a clause would have restricted where she could work in the future — and two years would not be considered unusual in many cases. Though the purpose in this case is different, a minimum two-year restriction prohibiting a government regulator from taking a job with a company he or she formerly regulated does not seem unreasonable — especially since the job of Senior VP at Comcast pays a lot of more than hairdresser.

  16. gman863 says:

    I agree with the majority so far. There should be at least a three year (and preferably five year) “non-compete” type clause banning FCC members from either going to work for or acting as a consultant or lobbyist for any company regulated by the FCC.

    It’s currently way too easy for companies to pull a perfectly legal spin on what Rob Blagojevich went to jail for: Make an under-the-table job offer an existing FCC official in exchange for votes while they’re still in office.

    • Rachacha says:

      So you basically want these people to be unemployed for 3-5 years?

      • dragonwerx says:

        Hell, no, they needn’t be unemployed – they should get a real job like the rest of us. Let go of mamma’s teat and compete in the existing job market. Just like the rest of us.

        Yes, I know what it’s like to have two baccalaureate degrees, a military career (aviation, no less), TS clearance, and still can’t get a job…oops, finished at 50.

  17. zark169 says:

    This is a start, but much more needs to be done across the board. Obvious corruption like this needs to dealt with more.

  18. kujospam says:

    It should be any deals with in the last FIVE years. Not just a year.

  19. oldwiz65 says:

    They can pass all the laws they want, the politicians and the people that work for the various agencies will always come up with a way to cheat and enrich themselves.It’s not a Republican/Democrat thing – it’s the nature of politicians and commissioners.

  20. balderdashed says:

    The difference is, if my senator or congressman appears to be unduly influenced by large campaign contributors, I at least have some power to hold him or her accountable. I can vote against him next time, and urge others to do the same. So there are potential consequences for a sleazy politician — but none for a slimy bureaucratic who makes a landmark decision that favors a powerful corporation, then shamelessly goes to work for that corporation a few months later. I have little doubt that Commissioner Baker would have made the same anti-consumer decision even if a job with Comcast were not in the offing. But the whole situation simply reeks; it undermines the FCC, and whatever trust we have left in our government. There should be some limitations on such bad behavior, and Congresswoman Waters’ proposal is at least a start.

  21. dirtrat says:

    This is the Congresswoman (Maxine Waters) from California who was drugged up on prescription meds and crashed into several cars on the freeway without stopping before the CHP finally pulled her over. I’m pretty sure she was banned from driving any State cars. I like her idea but she has some serious problems of her own IMHO!

  22. dangermike says:

    Maxine Waters proposing anti corruption legislation? That’s laughable. Going with the Star Wars theme inspired by the AT&T logo, that’s like Palpatine proposing anti-finger-lightening legislation.

    • dangermike says:

      And noticing a misspelled word immediately after clicking submit is made even more poignantly painful by the 20-30 seconds it takes to insert a comment. =D

  23. FrugalFreak says:

    Good bill, now how about include “coming from an FCC regulated company” also.

  24. yankinwaoz says:

    Did you guys know that the congressional staffers that wrote SOPA have just been hired as highly paid entertainment industry lobbyiest?

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1211/70149.html

  25. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    When I left the military I was informed that if I took a job with a government contractor I’d have to sign a document saying I’d not participated in any kind of contract decisions with that contractor when I was in uniform.

    Why are top-level gov execs held to a different standard than us plebes?