Some people with ties to tech companies and liberal interest groups may eventually be up for an exclusive commissioner slot on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), according to multiple unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
Mignon Clyburn, one of two Democratic FCC commissioners, is not expected to apply for another five-year term when her current one expires at the end of 2018. When she will leave is up in the air, but some who are highly familiar with the nominating process believe Clyburn will likely depart sometime in January or February.
Due to the somewhat imminent vacancy, there are a number of potential contenders to fill her spot, both from within and outside the government.
Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the nonprofit digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for example, is a prospective candidate. Politico first reported on Falcon and other prospects. The Daily Caller News Foundation was able to corroborate the information and gather further authoritative inklings.
Falcon is respected among the tech community and is reportedly interested in the job. The EFF, though, has a “revolving door” relationship with Google, as made evident by several employees’ work histories, including Falcon himself. He worked with Google’s policy team as an intern concurrently seeking his J.D. degree, according to his LinkedIn profile. Falcon was also employed at Public Knowledge, an interest group that has collaborated with liberal organizations for advocacy of regulations over the internet. Before that, he held several positions on Capitol Hill.
Another possible contender is Jessica González, deputy director and senior counsel for the left-leaning advocacy group Free Press. Like Falcon, she also has allegedly submitted the preliminary application to become commissioner. Free Press is very adamant about its position on internet regulations under the name of net neutrality: A nebulous term loosely defined as the principle that internet service providers have no right to discriminate against certain forms of traffic, including spam, nor to offer faster speeds to higher-paying customers. (RELATED: Activists Are Teaming Up With Big Tech For Net Neutrality Protests)
Free Press is also part of a coalition that received special treatment from former high-ranking officials at the FCC in 2014 during a previous contested debate on net neutrality rules. Prior to her work at Free Press, she was a teaching fellow and staff attorney at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation. Additionally, she served as an executive in multiple respects for the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Geoffrey Starks, an assistant bureau chief in the FCC’s enforcement unit since 2015, is a potential nominee for the opening. He oversees agency investigations and hearings, among many other duties. Starks, according to his LinkedIn page, used to work as senior counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice, specifically under the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. Prior to that, he had stints in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, legislation analysis in the Illinois State Senate, and a few years at a large law firm. Due to his position in the agency, it would likely be a relatively smooth transition for him if he was ultimately tapped, while a pivot for González or Falcon could conceivably be more of a challenge (albeit perhaps a welcome one).
Clint Odom, legislative director for California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, is also a name that has been floated around in informal discussions, according to people familiar with the matter. He used to work for Senate Commerce Ranking Member Bill Nelson, who (as noted later) may have some influence in the decision-making process. While Odom’s experience on the Hill is extensive, he also acted as policy director to former and current Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel from the end of November 2013 to December 2014, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Starks and Odom did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment. Gonzalez could also not be reached for comment.
The selection process is somewhat complicated; the President does the formal nominating, but usually heeds to the advice of the Senate Minority Leader, who is currently Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. As is customary protocol, the majority party gets three of the five seats on the Commission, with the two remaining allocated to the other. Observers of the FCC originally speculated that Trump may flout tradition — as he has so far been known to do — but he stayed the course by nominating both current FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Rosenworcel to keep the usual party-line-balance. (RELATED: Senate Confirms Final Two Seats At FCC That Have Been Vacant For Months)
If this serves as an example of precedence, Trump will likely not intervene in Clyburn’s replacement. The decision will presumably be up to Schumer and others in the party like Nelson, who is second-in-line for the committee that oversees most FCC issues.
As Politico aptly notes, Carr was only confirmed to fill the remainder of one term, meaning his will expire at the end of 2018, like Clyburn’s. That was probably by design so the confirmation process for Clyburn’s replacement could coincide with Carr’s second-term, and thus any political maneuvers to delay or halt the Democrat’s choice would likely be negated.
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