Senate Confirms Wheeler to Lead FCC, O'Rielly for Commission's Second GOP Seat

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Oct. 29 --The Senate confirmed the nominations of Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and Michael O'Rielly to fill the other open Republican seat at the five-member agency.

Wheeler and O'Rielly were approved by voice vote Oct. 29 and will take their seats immediately.

Wheeler, who endured a nearly six-month wait to serve on the commission for a term of five years beginning July 1, 2013, is a former lobbyist for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association. O'Rielly was an adviser to Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas).

Hold Lifted

The vote followed Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) decision to lift his hold on Wheeler's nomination after they briefly met Oct. 29 to discuss the candidate's views on disclosure of spending on political advertising.

Cruz released a statement Oct. 29: “In our meeting this afternoon, Mr. Wheeler stated that he had heard the unambiguous message that trying to impose the requirements of the DISCLOSE Act, absent congressional action, would imperil the Commission's vital statutory responsibilities, and he explicitly stated that doing so was 'not a priority.’ Based on those representations, I have lifted my hold on his nomination, and I look forward to working with him on the FCC to expand jobs and economic growth.”

The DISCLOSE Act, which sought to impose disclosure requirements and mandate reporting to the FCC, died in the last Congress, but some critics have expressed fear that the FCC will implement the act's provisions through rulemaking.

Cruz and Wheeler had sparred over the issue since Wheeler's nomination hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in June, when Cruz told Wheeler that his views on political advertising could be the “one issue that has the potential to derail your nomination.”

Cruz asked Wheeler whether he thought the FCC had the authority to “implement the DISCLOSE Act or has the authority to regulate political speech,” Wheeler told Cruz at the time that he needed to study the issue more.

The legislation would have required groups to disclose their funding contributors if they spend more than $10,000 on political advertisements.

Divestitures Forthcoming

Wheeler will resign as partner and managing director of Core Capital Partners, a Washington-based private equity firm, and will receive no further contributions from the company, according to disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Wheeler said he plans to sell his shares in AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and divest his interests in nearly 80 technology, media and telecom companies within 90 days.

O'Rielly said he would divest his stock in Yahoo! Inc. within 90 days, according to documents filed with the ethics office. His ownership in Yahoo stock, valued at between $1,001 and $15,000, will be reinvested into non-conflicting assets, his filing said.

Wheeler and O'Rielly will join Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai and the FCC's two Democrats, acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Clyburn has served as acting FCC chairwoman since Julius Genachowski left the commission in March.

Inner Circle

Wheeler has nearly finalized his choice of inner-circle aides, multiple telecom industry sources previously told Bloomberg BNA.

Wheeler is expected to name Ruth Milkman, the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau chief, as his policy chief of staff once he is confirmed. Milkman declined to comment when Bloomberg BNA recently asked whether she was interested in the position.

Inmarsat Vice President for Government Affairs Diane Cornell, a former FCC senior adviser, could replace Milkman as Wheeler's Wireless Bureau chief, industry sources said. Former State Department official Philip Verveer could be named legal counsel in the Wheeler commission, they said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com


See Cruz's statement at http://www.cruz.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=346960.