As twilight strikes the Obama Administration, the vigorous campaign pledges of reforming Washington’s insider culture appear abandoned. Beltway Insider could scarcely apply to anyone more appropriately than President Obama’s nominee for Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler. Wheeler has been a representative of special interests in Washington for at least a generation.
President Obama has picked a former telecommunications lobbyist and campaign fund-raiser to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, raising serious questions about his 2007 pledge that corporate lobbyists would not finance his campaign or run his administration…
There is no question that Mr. Wheeler, who was chief executive of the National Cable Television Association for five years and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association for 12 years before becoming a venture capitalist, understands the industry. The question is whether his long career representing the interests of telecommunications companies would make it hard for him to be an independent and fair regulator when consumers have few choices and pay high prices for cellphone, cable TV and broadband services.
Wheeler’s knowledge of the industry is not in question – he was their lobbyist. But Obama appointing a campaign bundler to a valuable government position is an open betrayal of stated principles.
Wheeler became a political supporter of Barack Obama at the beginning of his 2008 presidential run, serving on his exploratory committee and National Finance Committee. In addition to personally donating up to the legal limit, Wheeler also raised money from others—called bundling—for Obama, to the tune of more than $700,000, and even temporarily relocated to Iowa to campaign for Obama. Wheeler also campaigned in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. After the election, Obama chose Wheeler to lead the transition team’s review of the science, technology, space, and arts agencies. At the time, Wheeler stated publicly that he did not want an administration job.
Obama has already taken heat for nominating another campaign bundler, billionaire Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary. But while Pritzker is getting a seemingly benign political reward for giving Obama money, Wheeler is being put in a very compromising position. The FCC is directly overseeing Wheeler’s former clients and the industry groups he led. It is hard to imagine a more conflicted individual running a regulatory body. Hope and change has given way to the corrupt politics as usual.
Photo by Susan NYC under Creative Commons license