by Rich Sill
The Senate Commerce Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held an unusual second hearing on the nomination of Gigi B. Sohn to be a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, February 9th. The first took place in December 2021, but new information concerning a recusal agreement and ethical conduct caused Senators to call for a new hearing.
Issues with the Recusal
Republicans on the committee were seriously concerned about Sohn’s recusal letter to the FCC Ethics Office. Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) questioned Sohn about the source of the $32 million settlement Sportsfan Coalition New York, Inc made with Locast, and why she failed to publicly state that the settlement payment had been reduced to just $700,000 dollars. Ranking Member Wicker also asked if any interest group, individuals, or entities were involved in the formulation of Sohn’s recusal letter. Sohn responded that she had nothing to do with the writing of the settlement and that her recusal was strictly “voluntary, narrow and temporary.”
However, her testimony creates some inconsistencies, especially because the settlement and recusal letter were each finalized shortly before she was officially nominated by President Biden to become an FCC commissioner. Senator Wicker said the public deserves a regulator that can be trusted to be impartial on all matters as well as one can do the job to which they were nominated. Due to her recusal deal, she would legally be barred from dealing with a significant amount of the FCC’s tasks.
Issues with Sohn’s Twitter account
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Sohn wondered how she could serve the FCC without predetermined outcomes, and to explain her attacks on conservative news networks, the Trump Administration, and the FCC’s past actions net neutrality. Sohn tweeted that Fox News was “state-run propaganda,” that the Republican Party was full of white supremacists and racists and was associated with organizations that harassed former FCC Chairperson Ajit Pai because of his stance on net neutrality. Senator Blackburn went on to ask how Sohn could make such statements about one side of the political aisle while also remaining an unbiased and impartial FCC Commissioner. Sohn said she regretted the tone of some of her tweets, that they were posted when she was a private citizen and would not prevent her from being an unbiased commissioner. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) noted that with the number of Biden nominees who have a history of tweeting about Republicans being white supremacists and racists, it seems like that’s the way the current administration chooses its nominees, and the American people are tired of it.
Most of the resistance to Gigi B. Sohn’s nomination to become an FCC commissioner is based on her ethics issues and unanswered questions regarding her recusal agreement and the consequences of it. A commissioner should be able to participate in the business of the FCC in a fair and neutral way, but Sohn’s past activism and public comments raise questions about she can truly be fair and impartial. The inconsistencies in her testimony surrounding her recusal and past social media posts may create serious roadblocks to her nomination.
Senator Thune’s comment sums up Republican feelings towards the nominee: “Gigi Sohn is not fit to serve at the FCC. She has deceived Senators about business conflicts, recused herself from certain FCC matters, & called conservative outlets ‘state-sponsored propaganda.’ She won’t be an impartial commissioner or review matters in a fair & neutral way.”
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