House Democratic leaders chastise FCC counsel over ethics end-run

by Ira Teinowitz, Marketwatch

Democrats' anger over Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin's attempt to bypass government ethics rules and enlist Commissioner Robert McDowell to vote on a deadlocked AT&T/BellSouth merger continued to grow Tuesday with warnings from two powerful House Democratic leaders.
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A day after FCC general counsel Sam Feder defended a legal opinion allowing Mr. McDowell to vote, incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chastised Mr. Feder and urged Mr. McDowell to reject the advice.

Mr. McDowell, a Republican former telecom lobbyist, cited potential conflict of interest questions in explaining his recusal.

The two Democrats said Mr. Feder's advice was contrary to that of the director of the office of government ethics, and they questioned its appropriateness.

"I find the general counsel's response inadequate in convincing the American people that Commissioner McDowell's participation is necessary, proper or wise," Rep. Dingell said. "The general counsel has not provided a thoughtful and appropriate explanation for departing from the advice of the director of the office of government ethics, which could lead reasonable people to question the integrity of the agency's decision in this very important matter."

Rep. Markey said the ethics director's recommendation against proceeding is an "ethical hurdle" that isn't easily surmounted.

"I trust that Commissioner McDowell will find the FCC general counsel's weak legal arguments and even weaker rationale for a compelling government interest of little comfort when deciding whether to abandon the ethical high ground upon which he currently stands," he said.

A McDowell aide said Tuesday the commissioner has made no decision yet on whether to vote.

article originally published at http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/fcc-chairman-looks-former-boss/story.aspx?....

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