The three GOP House lawmakers who yesterday demanded that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cough up documents detailing its actions and relationship with wireless telecommunications company LightSquared have gotten ample campaign contributions from the embattled firm's corporate adversaries.
The ongoing saga surrounding LightSquared's efforts to launch a satellite-based 4G network demonstrates that when it comes to spectrum wars, there are monied interests on all sides pushing lawmakers, complicating President Barack Obama's campaign promise to expand the reach of broadband.
AT&T and Verizon figure prominently among the top donors to the three lawmakers who are demanding documents from the FCC: Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. LightSquared has claimed that both companies opposed its quest to offer a nationwide 4G network using spectrum close to the band that powers GPS devices, which would have posed a competitive.challenge to the telecom giants. All three lawmakers sit on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Upton is the chairman.
After months of controversy and intensive lobbying the FCC recently revoked LightSquared's waiver citing a government study that said that the network would intefere with GPS devices. But before that, the agency had drawn the ire of lawmakers who accused it of having a too cozy relationship with the company and its financial backer, also a major political donor, hedge fund guru Philip Falcone.
The three lawmakers' request follows those of of Sen. Charles Grassley, R., Iowa, for similar documents. Grassley, who also includes AT&T and Verizon among his top donors, as well as Deere and Company, which has a strong presence in the state. The tractor company is one of the most active members of the "Save our GPS" an industry coalition that organized lobbying against the LightSquared initiative.
Grassley's interest in the subject stemmed from a previous, unrelated examination of hedge funds, said a Grassley spokesperson. In his initial letter to the FCC about the LightSquared matter, in April 2011, Grassley noted that Falcone was the subject of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Comission, which came to light during the FCC's consideration of the LightSquared matter. "If anything, this investigation should have led the FCC to proceed with caution rather than step on the gas," wrote the senator. Grassley has vowed to hold up the nomination of any new commissioners to the FCC until it complies with his requests for documents.
Falcone, his family, and his Harbinger Capital Partners executives have given more than half a million dollars to federal candidates and parties over the years, benefitting both Democrats and Republican. More recently, contributions of skewed toward the Democrats. In a company shake up, Falcone yesterday joined the board of directors for LightSquared, while CEO Sanjiv Ahuja stepped down.
Last year the Center for Public Integrity reported on the web of connections the embattled company has with the Obama Administration, including that Falcone "made large donations to the Democratic Party while his broadband request was pending before the FCC. He and LightSquared executives met with White House officials."