Documents and copies of communications obtained by The Daily Caller indicate that the Federal Communications Commission propped up broadband company LightSquared with favorable regulatory decisions and other special treatment, while driving its competition out of business.
In August 2008, Wall Street hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, owned by longtime Democratic political donor Philip Falcone, sought to buy a majority stake in the satellite company SkyTerra — the company that would later become LightSquared. On June 27 of that year, just before Falcone’s Harbinger Capital sought FCC approval for that purchase, Falcone donated $28,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But on Sept. 3, 2008, $20,000 of that donation was returned for an unknown reason.
The donation was unusual for Falcone: He had donated to few Democrats and Republicans, including to George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign. But Falcone’s DSCC contribution was the first in what would become a pattern of major Democratic donations from people associated with LightSquared in the coming months and years.
Before Barack Obama became president, he was personally an investor in SkyTerra. Former Harbinger Capital Partners partner Howard Kagan, who left the firm in August 2008, donated $50,000 to Obama’s inaugural committee on Jan. 20, 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
At the time Falcone, the owner of Harbinger, was still looking for the FCC’s sign-off on his hedge fund’s desire to purchase a majority stake in SkyTerra. The companies began to seek government approval during the George W. Bush administration, but the deal’s pace accelerated after President Obama’s inauguration.
According to White House visitor logs, Obama’s new FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, a classmate of the president’s from Harvard Law School, met with White House Personnel Director Don Gips on Feb. 18, 2009. Gips’ personal financial disclosure forms show he had between $250,000 and $500,000 of his personal finances invested in SkyTerra via stock options. Gips bundled at least $500,000 in donations to Obama’s 2008 election campaign, and served on the advisory board of Obama’s White House transition team.
It’s unclear what specifically Gips and Genachowski were discussing at that White House meeting; but shortly after that meeting SkyTerra named two members of Obama’s White House transition team to senior leadership positions at the company. On March 9, 2009, SkyTerra hired Gary Epstein, an FCC political appointee for the first few months of the Obama administration and a member of Obama’s transition team, as its executive vice president. On May 11, 2009, SkyTerra named Jeff Carlisle, another Obama transition team member, to serve as its vice president of regulatory affairs.
Not too long after those Obama-tied hires, lawyers for Falcone’s Harbinger fired off an email that may suggest FCC coordination to approve the sale of SkyTerra to Harbinger outside of what is procedurally acceptable. In an email titled “we’re signed off with Team Telecom,” Henry Goldberg of Harbinger’s law firm, Goldberg, Godles, Weiner & Wright, wrote to FCC International Bureau Chief Howard Griboff on July 24, 2009.
“We’ll file the final letter early next week,” Goldberg wrote to Griboff, copying his law partner Joseph Godles.
According to an FCC order filed in March 2010, that FCC International Bureau approval didn’t really happen until a month later, on Aug. 24, 2009. Harbinger’s lawyers seemed to know a month ahead of time that the FCC would approve their proposal.
On the same day Goldberg sent that email to Griboff — July 24, 2009 — SkyTerra asked the FCC to allow it to delay the launch of a new satellite because there was a “potential delay in [its] delivery.” The FCC approved the request, but later denied a similar one for SkyTerra competitor GlobalStar based on “extenuating circumstances” in 2010. This appeared to be one in a long line of instances in which the FCC favored SkyTerra, the future LightSquared, over GlobalStar.