Mother Jones is latest outfit voicing outrage over frequent flying by FCC officials courtesy of corporate America.
In its September issue published today, the muckraking magazine reports that communications companies regulated by the agency ponied up nearly $300,000 to ferry agency staff to industry conventions and other fetes during the six months ended March 31. The government officials often are featured speakers or panel participants at the events, which also are prime lobbying opportunities. In all, the communications industry is now spending $125 million a year lobbying the FCC, which Mother Jones says is more than twice the lobbying budget of defense firms.
Among the expenditures: the California Cable Television Association spent $25,000 to bring 13 FCC staffers to Los Angeles for the Western Show, $3,600 of which was spent on travel and accommodations for current chairman (and then commissioner) Michael Powell. Another trip highlighted by the magazine was an $8,000 journey to Buenos Aires, Argentina last October by FCC economic adviser Alan Stillwell. He was asked by the Advanced Television Systems Committee to meet with foreign officials and executives regarding problems with the DTV transmission standard.
An FCC spokesman challenged the magazine's characterization of the travel as corporate-paid "junkets." Most of the FCC personnel are asked to make technical presentations or provide industry officials with updates about various regulatory proceedings and rarely spend free time in the sometimes-exotic locales. Corporate-paid travel is approved by the agency's ethics office and allows officials to meet with large numbers of company executives without spending any taxpayer money, the spokesman said.
But Media Access Project's Cheryl Leanza told Mother Jones that the FCC should decide which trips are truly necessary and fund them without being subject to the "whims of industry." A similar attack on corporate largess at the FCC was prepared last year by the Center for Public Integrity. - Bill McConnell