Conservative Stance, Legislative Experience To Drive O'Rielly FCC Role, Republicans Say

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Sept. 17 --The Republican nominee for Federal Communications commissioner, Michael O'Rielly, will bring an informed, conservative perspective to the FCC as it prepares highly consequential rulemakings for the U.S. communications sector, conservative policy makers told Bloomberg BNA.

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold O'Rielly’s confirmation hearing Sept. 18 at 2:30 p.m. in Room 235 of the Russell Senate Office Building. O'Rielly is an ideal pick because of his nearly two decades of legislative experience as a staffer in the Senate and House, Republicans said.

“Mike has a breadth and depth of experience in the complex and thorny world of communications policy and he will make a terrific commissioner,” former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell (R) told Bloomberg BNA in an interview prior to the hearing. If confirmed, O'Rielly would replace McDowell, who left the commission in May.

McDowell said the candidate's political philosophy is “built on the bedrock notion that government should be limited and we should trust markets, including consumers, to make the best decisions for the American economy. I think he will approach the FCC with that philosophy in mind,” said McDowell.

If confirmed by the Senate, O'Rielly will join Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai and the FCC's two current Democrats, acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. The Senate is expected to pair O'Rielly’s final confirmation vote with one for Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama's Democratic nominee for FCC chairman, Hill aides said.

Deregulatory Perspective

Pai said O'Rielly’s expertise in communications policy will serve him well at the FCC. “His legislative experience will be invaluable, both in terms of respect for statutory constraints and the wisdom of collaboration with Congress,” Pai told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

O'Rielly is a current policy adviser to Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a position he has held since January. O'Rielly is a “talented and valued member of my staff, and he will be a great addition to the Commission,” Cornyn said in an e-mailed statement from his spokesman.

O'Rielly has worked in the Republican whip's office since 2010 as an adviser, chief of staff and policy director for former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Kyl described O'Rielly as a “very congenial colleague,” in a phone interview. “Nobody is going to dislike Mike,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

Kyl acknowledged that O'Rielly has a conservative perspective but said he wasn't a dogmatic person. “Mike always keeps some basic principles in mind but can reach a pragmatic conclusion when dealing with members of the other party,” Kyl said. “You have to work with people and look for some way to reach the other side and get something worked out.”

As a technology policy candidate O'Rielly is “better rounded than a lot of the appointees on the commission,” former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview. O'Rielly was Sununu's legislative aide from 2003 to 2009. “He understands technology and the legislative process extremely well,” Sununu said.

'Unusual’ Spectrum Expertise

O'Rielly has a level of expertise on spectrum auctions that is unusual for an FCC nominee, Sununu said. “He has served as lead staff in the House and Senate in the committees of jurisdiction during every one of the last auctions during the past 15 years,“ he said. ”He has been part of the debate about restrictions, auction structure, the utilization of proceeds and about the effort to make additional spectrum possible.”

FCC staff are now drafting rules that will enable TV broadcasters to voluntarily release spectrum to auction for wireless commercial broadband, in return for a portion of the auction's proceeds as authorized by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96). The remaining proceeds will fund the development of FirstNet, a nationwide interoperable communications network for first responders, and help pay down the nation's debt.

Before his work in the Senate, O'Rielly was an analyst and staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1995 to 2003. O'Rielly began his Capitol Hill career in 1994 as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.).

If confirmed, O'Rielly said he would divest his stock in Yahoo! Inc. within 90 days, according to documents filed with U.S. Office of Government Ethics. His ownership in Yahoo stock, valued at between $1,001 and $15,000, will be reinvested into non-conflicting assets, his filing said.

“With regard to Yahoo! Inc., I will not participate personally and substantially in any matter that has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interest of the entity until I have divested it,” O'Rielly wrote in a July 22 filing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at