Dem lobbyist for LightSquared sought meeting at White House

Lobbyist and former Democratic majority leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.) sought a meeting in April with the White House on behalf of the wireless company LightSquared, emails obtained by The Hill show.

The requests to the White House, made in emails sent April 22 and April 27 by an employee at Gephardt Group Government Affairs, were initially rebuffed.

“I am following up on a meeting request from former Congressman Gephardt — on behalf of one of our clients — LightSquared,” Gephardt Group Government executive assistant Greg Carnick wrote in the April 27 follow-up email. Carnick addressed the email to Jason FurmanJason FurmanLook to Latinos to drive US economic growth Trump breaks federal rule about commenting on jobs report Congress must repeal the debt limit so no party can take it hostage MORE, the principal deputy director of the National Economic Council, and copied another White House staffer, Avra Siegel.

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In response, Siegel emailed Carnick on April 29 saying a meeting about LightSquared “wouldn’t make sense” because the company’s attempt to build a wireless network was an issue for regulators, not the White House.

“This is an issue that an independent regulatory agency is working on and the White House is not involved, so a meeting here wouldn’t make sense,” Siegel wrote.

In an emailed response on April 29, Carnick said the meeting with Gephardt would not be specifically about LightSquared.

“I have spoken to Mr. Gephardt and he would like to meet with those in the White House who are handling broadband policy,” Carnick wrote. “We understand that this would be a general topic meeting and will not focus on any particular issue.”

The meeting with Gephardt was granted, and he eventually met with Furman on May 25, according to White House visitor logs. Scott Brenner, Gephardt Group's vice president, also met with Furman that day.

An administration official confirmed to The Hill that the meeting with Gephardt took place, but said the participants only discussed general broadband policy, as discussed in the emails. The official emphasized that no LightSquared employees were present at the meeting.

Gephardt Group Government Affairs and LightSquared did not return requests for comment.

The administration official pointed out that GPS groups, which are battling LightSquared over network interference issues, have also had meetings at the White House.

The emails obtained by The Hill show that F. Michael Swiek, director of the U.S. GPS Industry Council, met on January 10 with Jim Kohlenberger, then-chief of staff for the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The meeting was held to discuss the problems that LightSquared could cause for GPS.

"I very much appreciated the breifing, [sic] and always revere the importance of having an effective and uninterrupted GPS," Kohlenberger wrote to Swiek the next day.

LightSquared became embroiled in controversy after testing showed its planned wireless network could disrupt Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted LightSquared a conditional waiver to move forward in January, but agency officials have said they will not allow the company to launch its network until the GPS issues are resolved.

Republicans have questioned whether LightSquared has benefited from ties to the White House and the Democratic Party. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) called for an investigation after the White House reportedly asked an Air Force general to change his congressional testimony to make it more supportive of LightSquared.

In September, Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBachmann: Muslim immigrants trying to undermine Western civilization Religious leaders pray over Trump in Oval Office 'Real Housewives' producer 'begging' Conway to join cast MORE (R-Minn.) accused President Obama of "crony capitalism" for allegedly giving favor to his political supporters, pointing to LightSquared's primary investor Philip Falcone.

Falcone, who has donated thousands of dollars to both Democrats and Republicans in recent years, says he is a registered Republican and has denied any attempts to influence the process through political connections.

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Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa) has demanded that the FCC release documents related to its review of LightSquared, and has pledged to block President Obama's two nominees to fill FCC vacancies until the agency releases the records.

White House and FCC officials say the wireless company has not received any special treatment, and the FCC emphasizes that the firm will only receive authorization to launch its network if it can demonstrate it does not harm GPS.  

Expanding broadband access is a priority of both the FCC and the White House.

LightSquared has invested billions of dollars in its plan to launch a wholesale wireless broadband service, and the company is currently undergoing a new round of testing to determine if technical modifications have addressed the interference problem.

In the meantime, LightSquared has turned to K Street for help. The Gephardt Group is one of 13 firms currently registered to lobby for LightSquared. Ten of those firms were hired in 2011 alone.

The Gephardt Group registered to lobby for LightSquared in February 2011, public disclosure documents show. Both Gephardt and Brenner are registered to lobby for the organization.

LightSquared has paid the firm $130,000 through the third quarter of this year, according to Senate records.

The White House emails were obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Ariel Katz contributed to this report.