A government-watchdog group that says it’s nonpartisan is calling on U.S. ethics officials to investigate whether the FCC complied with financial-conflict rules when it allowed several top officials to own stocks in apparent violation of the agency’s own rules.
In a complaint filed with the Office of Government Ethics and the FCC’s Inspector General, the Campaign Legal Center said the Commission officials owned stocks in cable and telecommunications companies. The Campaign Legal Center says FCC regulations ban employees from owning stock in any company significantly regulated by the agency.
Publicly available financial disclosure reports suggest nine stocks were held by senior FCC employees between 2018 and 2019, according to the complaint. The records include stock holdings for telecoms, cablecos and consumer electronics firms and computer companies. They include: AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Dell, Garmin, HP, IBM, Sony and Verizon.
The amounts range from just over $1,000 to $245,000. The complaint says some of the employees held stock directly, while other stocks were held indirectly, through a retirement fund or a spouse.
“The public has a right to know that the officials who regulate an integral sector of our society are acting in the public’s interest, not in their own private financial interest,” says the Campaign Legal Center in its complaint. “Federal law tries to prevent the risk to the public’s trust when FCC employees have financial conflicts of interest by explicitly restricting ownership of certain stocks. However, these restrictions are meaningless if they are not enforced.”
“An investigation is needed to determine whether the FCC Chairman and agency ethics officials took appropriate action to enforce the rules,” notes the group. Ajit Pai was Chairman from January 2017 to January 2021.
“If the FCC ethics officials issued a waiver or determined that the clear language of the regulations do not apply to the stocks, such waivers or legal analyses should be made public to help restore confidence in the ethics program of the agency,” says the government watchdog group.
The FCC has taken all the necessary steps to ensure compliance by its officials, according to The Wall Street Journal.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief