Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation Thursday into the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to grant a rule exception to a company owned by a major Obama donor.
“The Energy and Commerce Committee is committed to conducting vigorous oversight to ensure that Commission processes are fair, open, and transparent, and that they serve the public interest,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy wrote in a Thursday letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
In a joint statement last week, Upton and Walden said the agency’s “process is clearly broken, and something smells rotten on the eighth floor” — a reference to the offices of the chairman and commissioners at FCC headquarters in Washington.
The three opened the probe in order to find out whether Grain Management LLC, headed by Democratic campaign donor David Grain, was given inappropriate favor in the form of a wavier to the FCC’s upcoming airwave auction rules. The exception grants Grain benefits in the auction that were originally intended only for smaller businesses.
Grain licenses its airwaves to larger communications firms, and under the new spectrum auction rules, the revenue from those firms would have added to Grain’s total, depriving it of auction benefits meant to supplement companies with smaller revenues. As a result of the exception, Grain will be eligible for bidding credits not available to other companies with comparable revenues.
David Grain has given the Democratic National Committee tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations in recent years according to The Hill, including $5,000 for President Obama personally in 2012.
The representatives have demanded copies of all communications and documents specifically in reference to Grain prior to the decision last month to approve the company’s exception.
“The Commission’s action, which followed a period of public notice and comment, is consistent with Congress’s directive to design auctions that encourage participation among a wide variety of companies, including small businesses,” FCC spokesman Neil Grace said in a statement Thursday according to Variety. “We stand ready to act as a resource to Congress as we continue to address this important issue.”
Representatives have given the FCC until Aug. 15 to produce the documents.