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CONTACT: Patrick Ross
July 9, 2003
(202) 289-8928
FCC Weathers Campaign Tactics...For Now
May Fears Effects of High-Pressure Politics on Agencies


Are Progressive and New Deal-Era regulatory agencies falling victim to modern, high-pressure campaign tactics? Not yet, according to The Progress & Freedom Foundation’s Randolph J. May. But, if the type of unrelenting mass protest methods employed in the recent campaign against media ownership rule changes at the Federal Communications Commission become the norm, he argues that the rationale for their existence – a degree of independence and the application of specialized knowledge – will be undermined.

May, who is senior fellow and director of Communications Policy Studies at the Foundation, is referring to the intense pressure and unusual volume of mail directed at FCC commissioners – the Wall Street Journal estimated 750,000 e-mails and letters, most of them generated by lobbying groups. In an article published by Legal Times, “Campaign-Style Tactics are the Wrong Way to Influence Agency Decisions,” May warns that the agency’s rule-making process may be “adversely impacted” by the “novel ways in which interested parties sought to influence the outcome…” He believes the proper target of such intense political pressure is Congress.

“Organized mass e-mail and call-in drives, pickets, and the like are usually associated with legislative and elective battles,” May writes. “If they become standard operating procedure at regulatory agencies, especially the so-called independent ones, a principal rationale for their existence may be called into question.” He said that, while such agencies are not immune from politics, the FCC’s bipartisan membership and staggered terms are designed to limit its exposure to political pressure.

“There is an appropriate place, of course, for plebiscites, polls, and protests. It’s called Congress,” May writes. “So those who disagree with what the FCC has wrought should point their computer mice in the direction of Capitol Hill, and move their protests there as well. And, for the sake of preserving the idea of rational decision making informed by agency expertise, let’s hope the campaign-style tactics employed in the media ownership fight are an aberration rather than an incipient norm.”

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation