House investigation finds FCC abused power

A new report found that the chairman suppressed information and manipulated data to serve his agenda

Chairman Kevin J. Martin engaged in “egregious abuses of power” during his tenure at the FCC, a year-long congressional investigation has found.

The report, titled “Deception and Distrust” and led by Reps. John D. Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, D-MI, chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, found Martin suppressed information and manipulated data to serve his agenda.

“In recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and commission business has suffered as a result,” Dingell said. “It is my hope that the new FCC chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the commission avoid making the same mistakes.”

Martin, a Republican appointed by President Bush, has been criticized for abusing his power by giving the four other commissioners little time to review complex items before the agency and by refusing to publish the text of rules sufficiently in advance of meetings.

FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said that the agency’s review of the report indicated the FCC “did not violate any rules, laws or procedures.” He argued that Martin followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC chairmen, both Democratic and Republican alike.

However, the report cited several instances where Martin “manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports and information,” particularly in his attempts for tougher cable regulation, an issue Martin has aggressively pursued. “Martin’s legacy is he left us a blueprint of how not to run an agency,” said Stupak.

Since Congress is now controlled by Democrats, the report was written from a Democratic point of view. Republicans refused to sign the report, with a spokesman saying it lacked substance. “A congressional investigation has established that the chairman of the FCC doesn’t play well with others,” said Larry Neal, deputy Republican staff director on the committee.

Reuters said many FCC watchers agreed the agency has been inconsistent under Martin, but most said opaqueness at the agency precedes him and has been exacerbated by what the report called Martin’s “non-collegial” style.

“While there are some troubling allegations in the report, most of what it describes resembles the way the FCC has been run for a very long time,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project. “There is no question that Kevin Martin’s personal style has contributed to his problems.”

With a new Congress and administration coming in January, Schwartzman said “it’s an appropriate time to make the FCC more transparent.”

The Obama administration is still mulling candidates for FCC chairman, but by early next year the Democrats will have the majority on the five-member commission.