Ted Cruz Blocks Vote on FCC Chairman Over Political Ad Disclosures

Opposes More Disclosures Around Political Advertising

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Republican Senator Ted Cruz is blocking Tom Wheeler's nomination to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission after asking whether the Democrat would use the agency to regulate political advertising.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Mr. Wheeler's appointment was on a Senate calendar for action this week and didn't emerge as other nominees cleared the body.

"Yes, the senator is holding the nominee," Sean Rushton, a spokesman for Mr. Cruz, said in an e-mail. Senators can by tradition singlehandedly stall consideration of a presidential appointee.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Commerce Committee, said in an e-mailed statement he was "disappointed" that "highly qualified nominees" were blocked.

Mr. Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former leader of trade groups for the cable and wireless industries, would step into a post open since May, when the last chairman departed. Since then the FCC's been led by Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.

Tasks before the FCC include considering a flurry of TV-station purchases proposed by companies including Sinclair Broadcast Group, staging auctions sought by mobile providers led by Verizon Wireless, and weighing AT&T's request for regulatory relief as companies drop traditional phone networks for connections that rely on internet technologies.

But Mr. Cruz's focus seems to be squarely on political advertising. Mr. Cruz, of Texas, in a June hearing asked Mr. Wheeler to say whether the agency could regulate political speech or implement rules proposed under last year's failed Disclose Act. The bill opposed by Republicans would have required nonprofit groups to reveal who pays for their political advertisements.

Mr. Cruz wants to know Wheeler's views on implementing the Disclose Act by administrative action, Mr. Rushton said. Mr. Cruz wants to speak soon with Wheeler, he said.

At the hearing Mr. Cruz told Mr. Wheeler the disclosure issue has "the potential to derail your nomination."

"A substantial number of members of this body believe it is unconstitutional and bad policy," Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Wheeler responded by saying, "That's an issue that I look forward to learning more about."

Republican senators in a letter to the FCC in April called the Disclose Act "one of the most politically charged, partisan issues in recent Congresses." The lawmakers urged the agency not to implement its provisions.

The FCC last year adopted a rule saying TV stations must disclose on a public website details of political ad purchases.

'Disturbing Trend'
The requirement is "part of a disturbing trend to expand regulation of political speech," Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's top Republican, said in a letter to the agency. Mr. McConnell said the administration of President Barack Obama was reacting to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling of 2010, which removed limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and labor unions.

Groups that kept their donors secret spent $311 million on campaigns in 2012, with 85% of the money favoring Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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