Rockefeller concerned by lobbying past of FCC front-runner

A powerful Democratic chairman expressed concern on Tuesday about the possible nomination of Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist, to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), head of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Wheeler's history as a lobbyist for the cable and cellphone industries is cause for a "little bit" of concern.

"A lobbyist is a lobbyist," Rockefeller said in a brief interview in the Capitol. "He's been lobbying for some of the things he'd be making decisions on."

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When asked whether Wheeler would be a bad choice to lead the FCC, Rockefeller responded, "Don't ask me that question."

Rockefeller's Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the FCC and any nominees to fill commission vacancies. 

Wheeler, a venture capitalist and fundraiser for President Obama, is considered a front-runner to replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. 

He was the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying organization for the cable industry, from 1979 to 1984. Later, he led CTIA, the lobbying arm for cellphone carriers.

He was an early supporter of Obama's first presidential bid and led the working group in charge of science, technology and the arts for Obama's presidential transition team.

Rockefeller, along with 36 other Senate Democrats, is pushing a different candidate. They sent a letter to President Obama last month urging him to consider elevating FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to the chairman's position.

Rosenworcel, a former aide to Rockefeller, would be the first woman to chair the agency.

Other candidates include Karen Kornbluh, former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Larry Strickling, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

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