FCC regulations require TV broadcasters and cable providers to identify the "true sponsor" of all ads. Some Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), have urged the FCC to use that power to require that political groups advertising on TV reveal their major donors.
But Cruz argues the Democrats are trying to use the FCC to implement the goals of the Disclose Act — which would have required political groups to reveal more information about their donors. He and other Republicans claim the bill would have chilled political speech.
Cruz pressed Wheeler about the issue during his hearing in June, but the nominee said he would have to study the issue more carefully before taking a position.
Senate leaders had put Wheeler and Michael O'Rielly, a nominee for a Republican FCC seat, on a fast-track for approval. The Senate unanimously approved a slate of non-controversial nominees late Wednesday after voting for legislation to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government, but Cruz's hold prevented Wheeler from reaching the floor.
A Senate Commerce Committee aide said O'Rielly's nomination has been discharged from the committee. The committee voted to approve Wheeler in July.
The two nominees' fates are tied together: Democrats are unlikely to approve O'Rielly until Republicans allow Wheeler to be confirmed.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he is disappointed that several "highly qualified nominees were blocked last night."
"We need to get the government functioning as a whole again. We saw during the shutdown the difficulties experienced by families, businesses and the economies when the obstruction of a reckless few prevails and causes the lapse of important government services," Rockefeller said in the statement.
"If the government is going to fully function for the American people, we have to get these highly qualified nominees confirmed now.”
The FCC, which is currently led by Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, will continue operating with two vacancies on the five member commission.
Senate Democrats could override Cruz's hold on Wheeler, but that would require 60 votes and would take up valuable floor time.
The Commerce Committee aide said Rockefeller also tried to advance the nomination of Terrell McSweeny for a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, but an unidentified senator objected.
— Updated at 2:12 p.m. with a comment from Cruz's office