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.


But the OSC is also planning to conduct Hatch Act training with FCC officials. Earlier this month, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats urge Amazon to investigate, recall 'defective' products Asbestos ban stalls in Congress amid partisan fight Pharma execs say FDA will not lower standards for coronavirus vaccine MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleBiden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond White House getting pushback on possible government-owned 5G network Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump 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.


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 TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit 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.