Thune Probing Alleged Sunshine Rules Violation at March FCC Meeting

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Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune is probing the Federal Communications Commission’s policies for disclosing nonpublic information.

In an April 15 letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Thune (R-S.D.) focused on the events of a thrice-delayed March 31 commission meeting that looked at first like it might result in a deal between Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and her two Republican colleagues over establishing a hard budget cap on the Lifeline subsidy program. The meeting ultimately ended with a 3-2 party-line split to approve final rules without a hard cap.

A controversy erupted over what happened behind the scenes at the commission that day, as well as the disclosure of some nonpublic information in the press. Some observers alleged federal sunshine rules may have been violated in the process, Thune noted in the letter.

Thune alleged FCC staff may have disclosed information to the press in order to “engage outside interest groups to disrupt the deal struck between the Republican Commissioners and Commissioner Clyburn,” referring to alleged calls between public interest groups opposed to a hard cap and Clyburn’s office.

Thune told the FCC to consider his letter “a complaint requiring an investigation” and sent a copy to the agency’s Inspector General.

The FCC confirmed it has received the letter and is reviewing it.