Tom Wheeler, nominated by President Barack Obama on Wednesday to become the next U.S. communications regulator, is expected to face tough scrutiny from senators over his past close ties to the very industries he would oversee.
Alina Selyukh, "Obama Taps Former Lobbyist Wheeler as Telecoms Regulator," Reuters, May 1, 2013
Why is this man smiling?
As a former FCC commissioner, I was asked by the Institute for Public Accuracy, and numerous media, for a statement regarding President Obama's nomination of Tom Wheeler to be chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Here is a variation on my reaction. [Photo credit: Reuters.]
Regulate the Communications Industry
President Obama’s choice of Tom Wheeler as FCC chair is somewhere between bizarre and outrageous.
Sure, Wheeler was one of Obama's major campaign contributors -- even a bundler of others’ large checks -- reportedly totaling $700,000 to $1 million for 2008 and 2012. But being appointed FCC chair is not like becoming an ambassador to a small country, or spending a night in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House -- the usual kinds of reward for top contributors to a president's campaign.
There is no single independent regulatory commission that comes close to the impact of the FCC on so many aspects of every American’s life. That’s why Congress, in creating the agency, characterized its mission not as maximizing corporate shareholders' return on investment, but as insuring that Americans receive from their communications and media industries that which best serves "the public interest" -- a focus throughout the Act.
Wheeler’s background is as a trade association representative for industries whose companies appear before the Commission, a lobbyist in Congress for others asking for FCC favors, and a frequent visitor at the White House. He's been a venture capitalist investing in and profiting from others whose requests he’ll have to pass on.
He has no record during his multiple careers, of which I am aware, of devoting substantial quantities of his time and talents to helping consumers and the poor challenge corporate abuse of power.
In fairness to the President, and Tom Wheeler, I include here this video, which from 1:34 to 2:20 includes the President's best effort to explain why he thinks this appointment is a good idea. For the reasons I've explained, both above and below, I do not find his reasoning persuasive.
This is neither the kind of FCC chair Congress had in mind when creating the FCC, nor what those in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party had in mind when voting for Obama. Where is our "Hope"? Where is the "Change"? It looks like business as usual to me.
The business community has been doing very well at the FCC. They don’t really need any additional help from Wheeler. Parents, children, the poor, rural residents, small business, minorities, women and consumers have not done so well. They do need help.
Nor does Wheeler’s membership on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board bode well for those who believe Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights should be getting at least as much attention as the government’s perceived need to engage in even more secret snooping.
Oh, I suppose Wheeler is not all bad. Rumor has it that he’s kind to tiny children and small animals. I’m just not sure that’s enough.