FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been named Porker of the Month by Citizens For Government Waste (CAGW) for spending $355,000 to sponsor a NASCAR racer to promote the DTV transition, pointing out that the driver, David Gilliland, was from his home state.
It apparently would not be the first award for Maritn, but would be his first individual nod. The entire FCC got an award in July 2004 for a 5-0 decision to approve a Nextel spectrum-swapping plan.
"Awardees are selected based on their willful neglect of tax dollars and the sheer arrogance of their conduct.," said the group, which has long been critical of Martin on issues including network neutrality.
"Even though the commission has inundated networks with paid announcements for months, Martin considered it necessary to use additional taxpayer dollars to pay for the car and driver to bear slogans such as “Is Your TV ready for Digital?,” CAGW said.
CAGW points to an NAB statement that the public is "largely aware" of the switch as partial justification for its conclusion that the NASCAR sponsorship was "not the most efficient use of resources," a quote it attributes to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
CAGW also suggests that Martin made the choice with an eye toward his political future--almost all the awards go to Congressmen and women.
"Not only does this expenditure show poor judgment, the underlying motivation for the contract has also raised eyebrows," CAGW wrote. "Martin is generally expected to be replaced as FCC Chairman by the next president, after which he may attempt to launch a political career in his home state of North Carolina."
They also point out that Martin "chose Wilmington, North Carolina, as the test site for the switch to DTV," adding: "Considering Martin’s ability to sequester taxpayer money for his prospective constituents, he is well on his way to becoming a successful legislative porker." To be fair, only a handful of markets were identified by FCC staffers as appropriate for the test, and Wilmington was the one out of that group that agreed to do it. The FCC has also been under pressure from Congress to do more DTV education."
"Millions of Americans enjoy NASCAR motor sports," said a spokeswoman for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. "It is America's most popular spectator sport. These fans may not be Commissioner Adelstein's associates, but many are at risk of losing their TV signals as a result of the transition. Throughout the transition, we have partnered with diverse groups including AARP and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to name a few to bring word of the DTV transition to millions of Americans. We will continue to work in an aggressive and creative fashion to spread the word. "
"The sponsorship of the digital transition race car reached millions of consumers this weekend that [commissioner Adelstein] must not be in touch with," added an FCC official.
Martin is the first non-Congressperson (or Hill staffer) to receive the award since February 2006, but he is in good company. Past recipients include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouwe (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and even Commissioner Adelstein's former boss, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and even the U.S. Postal Service.
David Williams, VP, policy for CAGW, said that part of the reason Martin rather than a legislator got the nod was because around election time the group does not want to be accused of being partisan. "We don't want to get in trouble with the FEC or IRS," he said.
It is not the first time that NASCAR and the FCC have stood together on the "dubious award" victory stand.
Back in 2005, both the FCC and NASCAR received "Muzzle" awards from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression for stifling expression. The FCC's was for the indecency crackdown it will be defending in two weeks before the Supreme Court. In a related award, NASCAR earned its Muzzle for the decision to fine drivers in an attempt to avoid running afoul of the FCC’s indecency crackdown. Some drivers still let lose with choice comments on-air..