Powell Seeks Funds to End Industry-Sponsored Travel

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael K. Powell plans to change the FCC’s longtime policy of accepting travel and entertainment compensation from the industries and businesses it regulates.

In May, the Center for Public Integrity issued a study showing FCC officials, including commissioners and staff, have accepted almost $2.8 million over the last eight years in road expenses from the telecommunications and broadcast industries.

The study prompted U.S. Rep. Frank Wolfe (R.-Va.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, to write Powell in July urging him to “take steps internally to end this practice.” While federal law permits industry to pay for FCC travel, Wolfe said the practice “creates a perception of conflict of interest.”

In an Aug. 18 letter to Wolfe, Powell, who has accepted nearly $85,000 in travel and entertainment expenses in his tenure as an FCC commissioner and chairman, said he agreed with Wolfe.

“The Commission strictly adheres to all ethics laws and guidelines related to travel,” Powell wrote. “Nonetheless, certain travel paid for by entities that we directly regulate can create an appearance of impropriety, even when such travel is fully authorized by federal law.”

Powell added that travel to industry conventions and trade shows are essential to the FCC’s mission, but, “I believe…that such travel would be better funded by government appropriations so as to remove any hint of impropriety.”

Powell said he seek approximately $500,000 in additional FCC budget funding to eliminate industry-sponsored travel.

In addition to Powell, the Center for Public Integrity’s database shows travel and entertainment expenses for FCC Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy ($16,184), Michael Copps ($15,409), Kevin Martin ($14,856), and Jonathan Adelstein ($2,998).

The top contributors for sponsoring FCC travel include the National Association of Broadcasters (206 trips, $191,472), National Cable and Telecommunications Association (125 trips, $172,635), the Consumer Electronics Association (107 trips, $153,648), and the California Cable Television Association (80 trips, $108,242).

Las Vegas was the most popular destination of industry-paid travel, with FCC commissioners and staff making 330 trips to the Nevada desert over the eight-year period of the study. Most recently, the National Association of Broadcasters paid $26,309 to bring 17 FCC officials to its annual convention in Las Vegas in April, including all five FCC commissioners.

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