A Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission asked conservative advocates to provide input on an op-ed he wrote last year on net neutrality, according to internal agency documents released Tuesday.
"Would be interested in your thoughts on this draft. Keep it close as a work in progress," Commissioner Michael O'Rielly wrote in an email on April 23, 2014, to Robert McDowell, a former Republican FCC commissioner who now advises telecom companies as a lawyer at the firm Wiley Rein. "Your expertise would be most appreciated as soon as possible given the timing."
O'Rielly also received input from Harold Furchtgott-Roth, another former Republican FCC commissioner and now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and Berin Szoka, the president of libertarian group TechFreedom.
Szoka in particular offered an extensive overhaul of the op-ed. "Basic structure and argument is great. I know it looks like a lot of red ink but I really just tried to finesse, clarify, etc.," Szoka wrote.
The op-ed eventually ran in The Hill on May 6, with the headline "FCC's grab for new regulatory power could go beyond broadband providers."
The documents came to light Tuesday during a House Oversight Committee hearing on whether the White House inappropriately influenced the net-neutrality regulations issued by the FCC, an independent agency.
The discussion was not previously disclosed in a regulatory filing, which is required for all communications between FCC officials and outside groups that are meant to influence a commission decision.
Democrats used the emails to try to turn the tables on the Republican investigators.
"If Republicans want to accuse the president of undue influence in this process ... they can't just conveniently ignore similar actions on the part of the Republican side," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the committee's ranking member.
O'Rielly, who was not at the hearing, issued a statement Tuesday denying any wrongdoing.
He acknowledged seeking outside views on the op-ed, but said he wasn't required to disclose the conversations "because they were commenting on my personal views and advocacy, not lobbying or expressing views to the Commission in any capacity.
"Moreover, these communications did not have any effect on my ultimate decisions or the outcome of the FCC proceeding," O'Rielly said. He and the other Republican commissioner, Ajit Pai, forcefully dissented from the commission's expansive new net-neutrality regulations.
When Cummings asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler about the documents at the hearing, Wheeler declined to say that his Republican colleague had broken any rules. The chairman was already under fire from congressional Republicans for not disclosing most of his own meetings with White House officials.
—This article was updated at 5:06 p.m.
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