Ted Cruz seeks to press FCC nominee on ad policy

WASHINGTON Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:02pm EDT

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers questions during the Reuters Washington Summit in Washington, October 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers questions during the Reuters Washington Summit in Washington, October 24, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Bourg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has blocked President Barack Obama's nominee for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said on Thursday he hoped to meet with the nominee "soon" to discourage him from using FCC power to force sponsors of political ads to disclose their financial donors.

During the debt and budget debates that dominated Congress last week, Cruz used his prerogative as a senator to block the chamber from voting on the nomination of Tom Wheeler to lead the FCC, which oversees communications industries in the United States. The FCC has five seats, two of which are vacant.

Cruz's move reflects Republican questions over whether Wheeler would push to require independent groups to disclose more information about how they pay for TV and radio ads.

Under a 2010 Supreme Court decision, nonprofit advocacy groups can raise unlimited amounts of money and keep their donors secret, as long as their messages do not directly endorse specific candidates. During last year's elections, dozens of advocacy groups found ways to signal their support - or more often, their opposition - to various candidates through "issue" ads.

Efforts in Congress to require big-spending advocacy groups to disclose who funds their election ads failed in 2010 and 2012, prompting some Democrats to urge the FCC to use its authority over broadcasters to force such disclosures.

Cruz and other Republicans have argued that forcing disclosures of individual donors is unconstitutional and would chill the donors' freedom of political speech. They have warned the FCC not to exceed its authority, and want to know whether Wheeler, who would be the third Democrat on the FCC, would push for disclosures by advocacy groups.

"My office sent follow-up questions to Mr. Wheeler asking for his views and unfortunately, Mr. Wheeler has to date declined to respond to those questions," Cruz told the Reuters Summit on Thursday. "And so the hold was very simple. I would like this nominee to answer the question that we have propounded.

"We are hoping to be sitting down very soon and have an opportunity to visit further," he added.

White House representatives handling Wheeler's media relations declined to comment on the matter.

Industry insiders say a meeting is being set up for next week, but Cruz's office declined to specify a date.

Absent a permanent leader since May, the FCC has effectively been unable to address a range of issues, including the upcoming major reshuffling of ownership of valuable radio frequencies among TV stations and wireless providers.

Democrats, who control 54 seats in the 100-seat Senate, could force a vote on Wheeler's nomination but would need Republican support to get the 60 votes needed to override Cruz's hold on it.

(Additional reporting by Paige Gance; Editing by David Lindsey and Peter Cooney)

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