House Dems urge investigation into FCC commissioners' CPAC appearance

House Dems urge investigation into FCC commissioners' CPAC appearance
© Greg Nash

Two top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are urging ethics officials to investigate Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over their appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this year.

Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation House Democrat presses Google executives for answers on handling of health data MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleDemocrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Hillicon Valley: Google, Reddit to testify on tech industry protections | Trump joins Amazon-owned Twitch | House to vote on bill to combat foreign interference Reddit, Google to testify before House panel on tech's legal protections MORE (D-Pa.) on Monday sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency tasked with investigating federal officials for ethics law violations, expressing concerns about the three GOP FCC commissioners attending the conference in February.

The letter comes days after the OSC revealed it had concluded that one of the commissioners, Mike O’Rielly, had violated the Hatch Act during a CPAC panel discussion in which he urged voters to reelect President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE. That law prohibits federal officials from promoting political candidates or parties in their official capacities.

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The OSC said it issued a warning to O’Rielly.

Pallone and Doyle have suggested that the appearance of the three commissioners at CPAC violates the Hatch Act.

“In addition to your finding last week that Commissioner Michael O’Rielly did in fact violate the Hatch Act during his appearance at CPAC, the three Republican FCC Commissioners have also refused to cooperate with Congressional oversight into their promotion of and participation in CPAC,” the two Democrats wrote to OSC on Monday.

“These actions raise serious concerns about whether the Chairman and Commissioners may have knowingly violated ethical restrictions. We hope you will assist us in this investigation,” they added.

An OSC spokesman confirmed that the agency had received the letter but declined to offer a comment.

In a statement to The Hill, a spokesperson for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited a letter the agency's general counsel sent to Pallone and Doyle last month that argued the CPAC appearance was in line with previous FCC officials' attendance at similar events hosted by nonpartisan ideological organizations.

"Indeed, Cabinet members also spoke at CPAC, and the Democrats’ letter contains no explanation for why the Commissioners’ participation should be treated any differently," the spokesperson said in the emailed statement. "Sadly, we are left to conclude that the Democrats are simply trying to stop FCC Commissioners from speaking to right-of-center organizations while they have no problem with Commissioners speaking to left-of-center groups.”

Updated at 11:51 a.m.