GOP lawmakers launch probe into FCC’s waiver for Obama donor

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Republican lawmakers are launching a probe into the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to let a company owned by a major Democratic donor skirt some of its rules.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who lead the subcommittees on Communications and Oversight, respectively, said they were worried that the private equity firm, Grain Management, may have been getting special treatment in an upcoming airwave auction.

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“The Energy and Commerce Committee is committed to conducting vigorous oversight to ensure that Commission processes are fair, open, and transparent, and that they serve the public interest,” the three lawmakers wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday. “The granting of the Grain Management waiver raises questions about these processes.”

To support their investigation, lawmakers demanded a copy of all communications and records pertaining to Grain Management ahead of the June decision to grant the waiver, which would allow the company and other similar firms to receive benefits under the upcoming auction that are reserved for small businesses. Grain licenses its airwaves to bigger firms and would not have been able to receive the benefits without the waiver.

The head of Grain Management, David Grain, has given tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats in recent years, including $5,000 to President Obama’s 2012 reelection bid.

The FCC has defended the waiver, which it said was meant to ensure that entrepreneurs and small businesses are not disadvantaged in the airwave auction.

On Thursday, FCC spokesman Neil Grace said that the commission would be glad to respond to the lawmakers' investigation about granting the waiver.

“The Commission’s action, which followed a period of public notice and comment, is consistent with Congress’s directive to design auctions that encourage participation among a wide variety of companies, including small businesses,” he said in a statement. “We stand ready to act as a resource to Congress as we continue to address this important issue.”

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