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 PalloneHillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules FCC chair declines emergency briefing request over location data concerns Hillicon Valley: House chair seeks emergency briefing on wireless industry's data sharing | AG nominee to recuse himself from AT&T-Time Warner merger | Dem questions Treasury, IRS on shutdown cyber risks MORE (D-N.J.) and Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleDems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill 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 TrumpHouse Freedom Caucus calls for Congress to work on shutdown through break Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee Trump inaugural committee spent ,000 on makeup for aides: report 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.