Ted Cruz Takes On the F.C.C.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who helped engineer the recent government shutdown, has a new target for his obstructionism: the Federal Communications Commission. Last week, Mr. Cruz blocked the Senate from considering the nomination of Tom Wheeler to lead the commission — a candidate who leaders from both parties had agreed would be put up for a vote without delay.

Mr. Cruz has put a hold on the nomination, his spokesman told reporters, to find out if Mr. Wheeler would vote to require greater disclosure about political ads on television and radio bought by independent groups. Such groups can currently keep donors secret even as they spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections. Mr. Cruz says he is trying to get more information and to make sure the F.C.C. does not exceed its authority.

But the F.C.C. clearly has the authority to require disclosure of who pays for commercial and political speech on public airwaves under communications laws dating back to the 1930s. Last year, a federal appeals court refused to block temporarily the commission’s rules requiring broadcast stations in the nation’s top 50 TV markets to disclose the names of groups paying for political ads and how much they were spending. That case is still pending.

Mr. Cruz knows that Congress will not repeal federal laws granting the F.C.C. power to require disclosure, so he is trying to bully Mr. Wheeler into agreeing not to exercise the agency’s authority. The fact is, neither he nor supporters of Republican candidates and conservative causes want disclosure of spending on commercials by groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.

The five-member commission currently has only three members because one of the two Republican seats is also vacant, and it has not had a permanent chairman since Julius Genachowski left in March. The Senate was expected to vote on nominations of Mr. Wheeler and an appointee picked by Republicans, Michael O’Rielly, at the same time, but Mr. Cruz’s hold has scuttled that plan.

The vacancies have kept the commission from finishing work on several important matters. For example, it is in the final stages of drafting rules for an auction of wireless spectrum that should help expand broadband Internet service and pay for a major upgrade to networks used by police and other emergency services. Mr. Cruz will not easily give up his misguided crusade, so other Senate Republicans need to pressure him to drop his hold.


Leave a Reply