Lip service to transparency: Free Press fails to disclose direct lobbying

Mike Riggs Contributor
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This is the first piece in a two-part series

“Paying lip service to transparency and being transparent are two different things,” said Josh Silver in June after the Wall Street Journal published reports about “a series of secret meetings … between the Federal Communications Commission and top industry lobbyists.”

A proponent of net neutrality and director of the media reform nonprofit Free Press, Silver has lit into the FCC numerous times for its off-the-record meetings with telecommunications companies, all of which are fighting the net neutrality policies being pushed by Free Press.

“It is deeply disturbing that the FCC’s Chief of Staff is not only meeting exclusively with industry representatives on the future of the Internet but when faced with criticism,” Silver said, “he is also making weak excuses for the agency’s behavior alongside vague promises to include others somewhere down the road.”

Actually, the FCC held a number of “secret meetings” with net neutrality proponents. In fact, the “others” were — and most likely still are — members of Free Press’s lobbying arm.

But you wouldn’t know this from looking at Free Press’s Lobbying Disclosure Act filings.

Under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, direct lobbying is defined as “any oral or written communication (including an electronic communication) to a covered executive branch official or a covered legislative branch official” made with regards to “the formulation, modification, or adoption of a Federal rule, regulation, Executive order, or any other program, policy, or position of the United States Government.”

Free Press’s LDA filings mention only one instance of direct lobbying of the FCC: Free Press’s Joseph Torres, who met with FCC staffers during the 4th quarter of 2009.

But according to ex parte data (documentation of an argument or policy proposal made to the FCC absent another party, i.e., in private) obtained by The Daily Caller, as well as data from the FCC’s visitor logs, multiple employees of the Free Press Action Fund have lobbied FCC staffers on net neutrality regulations more than two dozen times since January 2009:

  • On February 18, 2010, Free Press policy advisor Chris Riley and Free Press legal advisor Aparna Sridhar met with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s Legal Advisor, David Goldman, to discuss net neutrality.
  • On February 3, 2010, Chris Riley of Free Press participated in two meetings with FCC staff.
  • On January 29, 2010, Ben Scott of Free Press met with Blair Levin of the FCC’s National Broadband Task Force.
  • On January 22, 2010, Ben Scott of Free Press met with Genachowski and four of the Chairman’s advisors.
  • On January 12, 2010, Chris Riley met with Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

In addition to ex parte filings, the FCC’s visitors logs reveal that Free Press Action Fund staffers Ben Scott, Coriell Wright, Derek Turner, and Adam Lynn visited the FCC on 29 separate dates between February 2009 and October 2009:

Feb. 3, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
Feb. 5, 2009: Coriell Wright
Feb. 6, 2009: Derek Turner
Feb. 26, 2009: Ben Scott
Feb. 27, 2009: Coriell Wright
March 5, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
March 9, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
March 26, 2009: Coriell Wright
May 12, 2009: Coriell Wright
June 1, 2009: Ben Scott
June 11, 2009: Coriell Wright
July 2, 2009: Ben Scott
July 20, 2009: Ben Scott
July 24, 2009: Ben Scott
July 28, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
July 30, 2009: Adam Lynn
Aug. 8, 2009: Coriell Wright
Aug. 10, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
Aug. 12, 2009: Coriell Wright
Aug. 13, 2009 Coriell Wright
Aug. 20, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner, Coriell Wright
Aug. 27, 2009: Ben Scott, Coriell Wright
Aug. 28, 2009: Ben Scott
Sept. 8, 2009: Ben Scott
Sept. 15, 2009: Ben Scott, Derek Turner
Sept. 16, 2009: (two visits) Ben Scott
Sept. 24, 2009: Ben Scott
Sept. 25, 2009: Ben Scott
Oct. 22, 2009: Adam Lynn

Not one of these meetings made it onto Free Press’s quarterly LDA reports, though the discussions likely involved more than a recap of the day’s weather.
Last week, the FCC canceled its off-the-record meetings with telecommunications representatives in the wake of reports that Verizon and Google had met without the FCC to discuss net neutrality.

Free Press’s response?

“We welcome the FCC’s decision to end its backroom meetings….We’re relieved to see that the FCC apparently now finds dangerous side deals from companies like Verizon and Google to be distasteful and unproductive.”

Talk about lip service to transparency.

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