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.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the OSC is also planning to conduct Hatch Act training with FCC officials. Earlier this month, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse reaches deal on continuing resolution, vote expected Thursday Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House panel advances anti-robocall bill House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' 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.