President Barack Obama has frequently claimed that he has no lobbyists working in his administration. But that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. In fact, the Obama Administration is filled with lobbyists. And with the appointment of Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the communications and technology industries, it’s about to get another one.
Over at Reason, Peter Suderman explains that Wheeler, who will replace outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, was a top bundler for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and he appears to have interest in seeing the role of the FCC expanded, which isn’t a good sign:
The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama is expected to announce that he’ll name Tom Wheeler to replace him. Like Genachowski, Wheeler is a tech-industry veteran and big-time Obama-campaign bundler: Genachowski helped found a tech-startup incubator and was a senior advisor to a tech-centric private equity firm; he was also a $500,000 bundler for Obama’s first presidential campaign. Wheeler is a former head of trade groups for both the cable and wireless industries who reportedly helped raise more than $1.1 million for the president’s election campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Wheeler is already being criticized by some tech activists on the political left for his industry ties. “The Federal Communications Commission needs a strong leader — someone who will use this powerful position to stand up to industry giants and protect the public interest,” said Free Press president Craig Aaron, according to The Wall Street Journal. “On paper, Tom Wheeler does not appear to be that person, having headed not one but two major trade associations.”
It’s not entirely clear how or if Wheeler will differ from Genachowski on many of the FCC’s big issues, but like his predecessor, he seems more than a little interested in expanding the agency’s reach. In a 2011 blog post, he implied that he favored a proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile—not because of the possibility of consumer or industry benefits from the merger, but because the resulting bigness would have given the FCC greater authority over the mobile broadband market.
Wheeler will probably be confirmed by the Senate, but given all of the issues that will come up before the FCC and his own interests and ties to the Obama Administration, his appointment should face skepticism.