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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Take Back Your Seats, Part II
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I agree with what Randy said, but would take the point even further. Two unfortunate recent traditions have emerged and they have converged poisonously. The first tradition Randy describes; namely, the White House ceding de facto appointment authority for minority party commissioners to the leaders of the opposite party in the Senate. Clinton did this and we got Michael Powell and Harold Furchtgott-Roth. Bush did the same and Senator Daschle "appointed" commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

The second tradition holds that Hill staffers are appointed to these positions. FCC historians may know the whole list, but Furchtgott-Roth, Copps and Adelstein all fit this mold. These folks then come to the Commission from the intensely partisan world of the Hill, where voting against the other side is a near-duty and where law is made, not followed.

The result of these two trends is that you end up with an FCC that is more deeply divided along political lines and more apt to behave as if it is a legislative, instead of law-abiding, body. Indeed, I would hazard to say that there is more collegiality on appellate courts between appointees of different parties than on the FCC. The demagoguery and political stuntery around the media rules is case in point where even the very tactics of political campaigns were in use. You simply cannot cede appointing authority to your partisan rival and then draw your candidates from the partisan, political hotbed that is the Hill and expect a cohesive, collegial body.

Maybe with its broad grant of authority, the FCC is doomed to be a irredeemably political body. If so, then it is false even to its own premises of being a law-abiding expert agency. Moreover, you have to ask what special claim it should have to be regulating. After all, we usually rely on legislatures to legislate.

posted by Ray Gifford @ 4:55 PM | General

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