Politics Trumps Ethics… As Usual

When FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell went through his confirmation hearings, it was made very clear that he would be expected not to rule on any deals related to his previous lobbying clients. These clients included both AT&T and BellSouth, companies which are attempting to gain government approval for a merger.

So McDowell is standing up to his promise, and has said he won’t take part in the proceedings. Unfortunately, though, the proceedings are deadlocked between the Republican and Democrat factions. So what do the FCC’s lawyers say? “Go ahead, because political expediency is more important than any assurance of objectivity.”

But despite his concern about a possible conflict of interest, the FCC’s general counsel, Samuel Feder, ruled this month that McDowell could take part because of an overriding government interest in breaking the deadlock.

McDowell rejected that reasoning and criticized Feder’s opinion for overlooking important facts and legal considerations. In particular, he faulted the opinion for not addressing the ethics agreement reached during his Senate confirmation process this year in which he pledged not to participate for a year in any matter in which Comptel had been involved.

“While I expected the legal equivalent of body armor, I was handed Swiss cheese,” McDowell said.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin, who asked Feder to issue the opinion, has been urging McDowell to take part in the considerations. Late yesterday, Martin said his aim had been to make sure the commission considered the merger in a timely fashion.

Yep. You heard them. It doesn’t matter if the decision is right, just as long as it’s fast.