FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal

FCC watchdog clears chairman of 'favoritism' allegations over Sinclair deal
© Anna Moneymaker

The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) internal watchdog cleared the agency's Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, of showing any favoritism toward Sinclair Broadcast Group in the review of its now-abandoned merger plans.

"Our investigation revealed no evidence of impropriety, unscrupulous behavior, favoritism towards Sinclair, or lack of impartiality related to the proposed Sinclair-Tribune Merger," the Office of Inspector General said in its report, which was released Monday.

Pai said he was "pleased" by the report.


"As I said when this investigation was first announced, the suggestion that I favored any one company was absurd, and today’s report proves that Capitol Hill Democrats’ politically-motivated accusations were entirely baseless,” he said in a statement.

House Democrats last year had asked for Pai to be investigated over whether he had improperly taken actions to clear the way for Sinclair's planned $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media.

A letter from Democratic Reps. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsHouse chairman: Trump lawyers may have given false info about Cohen payments Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Dems blast rulemaking on family planning program | Facebook may remove anti-vaccine content | Medicare proposes coverage for new cancer treatment Rule change sharpens Dem investigations into Trump MORE (Md.) and 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 (N.J.) cited deregulatory actions taken that would have aided Sinclair in its quest to be the nation's largest owner of local television stations.

Pai was seen as a staunch advocate for right-leaning Sinclair in its quest for merger approval.

But in a surprise move in July of this year, Pai referred the proposed merger to an administrative judge, a move that would likely have killed the deal.

Pai cited a number of side deals that Sinclair would have carried out to help the merged company comply with restrictions on ownership of television stations. The FCC questioned those deals, which they said would have seen Sinclair sell stations for below market value to individuals who still had ties to their company.

Sinclair later withdrew its merger application from the FCC. In August, Tribune Media formally backed out of the deal and sued Sinclair for $1 billion for breaching their agreement.