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FCC Strengthens Lobbying Disclosure Rules

Fines possible for repeated inaccurate ex parte submissions

After looking at public comments about proposed changes to its “ex parte” rules, the FCC has made some changes in how lobbying activities must be disclosed. It still wants comment on other potential changes.

Ex parte is a legal term that refers to communications from one side of a given issue.

The FCC will now require all oral ex parte communications to be documented, and their content described, not just for those presentations that involve new information or arguments not already in the record. Not all oral ex parte discussions had been documented before; and some descriptions of what took place during those meetings had been skimpy, according to consumer advocacy groups who sought change.

The commission considers an oral presentation to be ex parte when it’s made without advance notice to other parties to a proceeding and if those other parties can’t be there. The notice must include a summary of new information presented.

The FCC says the change to its disclosure rules should help those actually taking part in FCC proceedings as well as those observing them from the sidelines to better identify and understand issues being debated.

New electronic filing rules will help Internet users access the information. Ex parte notices must be submitted electronically in machine-readable format. PDF images created by scanning a paper document are not allowed unless no other electronic version is available. Confidential info may continue to be submitted on paper, but a redacted electronic version must be filed at the same time.

Stronger enforcement provisions will bolster these new requirements, according to the agency. It announced that copies of electronically filed ex parte notices must now be sent to all FCC staff and commissioners who were at the meeting, so they can review them for accuracy. The Enforcement Bureau now can fine those who repeatedly submit incomplete or inaccurate ex parte notices.

In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission asks for comment on whether it should adopt real party-interest disclosure rules based on those used in many court proceedings. This is to determine if someone making a filing or otherwise lobbying the commission is representing an undisclosed party.

Also to be decided is whether comments posted to various FCC new media sites should be subject to the ex parte rules and whether trade associations should be required to adhere to the same disclosure requirements as corporations.

Comments to GC Docket 10-43 are due 45 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register.