Watchdog to conduct ethics training for FCC after CPAC controversy

Watchdog to conduct ethics training for FCC after CPAC controversy
© Greg Nash

A government ethics watchdog has ruled that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai did not violate ethics laws by participating in a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, but said that it will be conducting standards training with agency employees in the coming months

In a letter to Pai that was obtained by The Hill, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said the chairman did not run afoul of ethics laws that prohibit federal officials from engaging in partisan activity by appearing at the conservative gathering.

"After considering all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the event, OSC has concluded that you did not violate the Hatch Act by merely participating in the panel discussion in an official capacity," OSC official Ana Galindo-Marrone wrote in the letter to Pai, which is dated May 16.

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But the OSC is also planning to conduct Hatch Act training with FCC officials. Earlier this month, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Lawmakers pay tribute to John Dingell's legacy on health care | White House denies officials are sabotaging ObamaCare | FDA wants meeting with Juul, Altria execs on youth vaping Hillicon Valley: Dems ready to subpoena Trump Tower meeting phone records | Dems, Whitaker in standoff over testimony | Bezos accuses National Enquirer of 'extortion' | Amazon offers rules for facial recognition | Apple releases FaceTime fix MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHillicon Valley: Lawmakers press officials on 2020 election security | T-Mobile, Sprint execs defend merger before Congress | Officials charge alleged Iranian spy | Senate panel kicks off talks on data security bill House Dems grill T-Mobile, Sprint execs on merger House members hint at bipartisan net neutrality bill MORE (D-Pa.) asked the OSC to investigate the appearance by Pai after the office issued a warning to another FCC commissioner for comments he made during the CPAC panel discussion.

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The OSC this week also told Pallone and Doyle, two of the top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, that the three Republican commissioners who went to CPAC did not violate the ethics law by merely appearing at the event, concluding that CPAC is not a partisan gathering, despite its ideological leaning. But that letter, which was shared with The Hill, said the "OSC is working with the FCC to schedule comprehensive Hatch Act training for FCC employees" this summer.

“We are relieved that despite the poor counsel from their general counsel the Republican FCC Commissioners did not commit more than the two ethical violations that had already been identified," a  spokesman for Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a statement to The Hill.

"We are also gratified that the Special Counsel agreed that the FCC needs more training regarding the Hatch Act. We hope this training will help curb the spike in political activity that has been taking place at the supposedly independent FCC.”

The OSC had concluded that one of the commissioners, Michael O'Rielly, had violated the law during the CPAC panel by urging voters to reelect President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE. And Pai, citing the advice of agency ethics officials, declined a CPAC gun award that was presented to him at the event for his "courage" in repealing net neutrality.