Capital Watch


Activists Push for Input

Consumer, civil rights and labor groups last week endorsed a call by three GOP senators that the FCC seek public comment on specific changes to media rules. In letters to the FCC and Congress, the groups praised Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, and Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado for their request that the FCC give the public more time to express their views (B&C, March 24). The activist groups, led by Consumers Union, "wholeheartedly support" the Senators' request.

The groups oppose loosening the rules, which would let media conglomerates get bigger both nationally and in local markets. But not everyone in the Senate shares Snowe and company's desire for more public comment. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) on March 20 asked the FCC to complete the media-ownership review and issue a final order "without further delay ... I am troubled with the length of time these particular issues have remained pending before the commission," he said, noting that some dated back to 1998. Brownback asked for examples from FCC Chairman Michael Powell of how the review process has created regulatory uncertainty (Powell has said a biennial review is too short a time frame).

Grassley Backs AP

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has demanded some answers from the FBI and Customs over the September seizure of an overnight package containing unclassified documents sent between two AP bureaus by reporters working on a story on terrorism.

In a letter sent last week to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner, Grassley says the bureau "may have overstepped its bounds by improperly seizing private property to censor and stymie the media." Customs took possession of the package (sent between Manilla, Philippines, and Washington) during a routine spot check and turned it over to the FBI.

Grassley gave the pair until April 11 to explain and document "why the package was seized and kept, why no warrant was sought or obtained, and why no notification was made to the AP."

Adelstein Names Adviser

Johanna Mikes will become permanent media advisor to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein today (March 31) replacing interim aide Sarah Whitesell. Mikes most recently worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), advising him on communications and intellectual property and assisting him in co-chairing the Congressional Internet Caucus. Prior to joining Boucher, Mikes was a staffer in the FCC's then Common Carrier Bureau. Before her first stint at the commission, Mikes was an associate at Latham & Watkins in Washington. Whitesell will return to the Media Bureau staff.

Caveat emptor

The FCC has issued an advisory for bidders interested in spectrum now occupied by TV channels 54, 55 and 59 in the 700 Mhz band of spectrum. The band is being cleared to make room for new services, with an auction scheduled for May 28. The notice provides a laundry list of caveats that the buyers need to beware of, including checking out who is currently on channels 53, 56, 58 and 60, since the bidders must provide protection from adjacent-channel interference.

Taylor exiting Alliance

Leading campaign finance reform advocate Paul Taylor, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, is stepping down June 2 to join one of the Alliance's funders, The Pew Charitable Trusts, to oversee public interest-related projects. Taylor will be based in Washington. He will be succeeded at the Alliance by Meredith McGehee, who has been a consultant to the group since starting her own firm in 2002. Before that, she spent 15 years with Common Cause, where she lobbied for campaign finance reform legislation.