Martin Gets Support For McDowell Recusal Query


The current chairmen of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Telecommunications Subcommittee have weighed in with support for FCC's Chairman Kevin Martin's exploration of whether Commissioner Robert McDowell can vote on the AT&T/Bell South merger.

In a letter to Martin on Wednesday, Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairmen of the Commerce Committee and Telecommunications Subcommittee said that the commission has had "ample time" to review and rule on the merger--250 days--saying "mergers and acquisitions should not be held hostage in order to advance a particular policy agenda."

The reference is to Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, who are not willing to sign off on the merger without some conditions that apparently don't pass muster with Martin or Republican Deborah Taylor Tate. The Democrats were particularly concerned after the Justice Department concluded its review the day before a scheduled--then aborted--vote.

"Given that the commission appears unable to act on the applications for transfer of control by AT&T and BellSouth without Commissioner McDowell's participation, it is appropriate for the commission's general counsel to examine whether the government's interest would be served by permitting Commissioner McDowell to participate."

The current take is quite different from that of their almost certain successors, John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who are troubled by the possible McDowell participation. They wrote FCC General Counsel Sam Feder Tuesday with a number of questions and documents about how he might come to the conclusion that McDowell can vote.

Their concern was echoed by Telecommunications subcommittee Democrat Mike Doyle, who wrote Martin saying that even the chairman's "request to unrecuse Commissioner McDowell would set the commission on a treacherous course toward an unacceptable precedent."

Commissioner McDowell has not been officially participating in the review per ethics rules, since his former employer, telecom association COMPTEL, has weighed in on the merger. His one-year period for avoiding such votes in order to avoid even the appearances of conflicts ends in June 2007.