CLC Seeks Investigations of FCC Officials’ Stock Trades

The front doors of the Federal Communications Commission building
The Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. Photo by B Christopher / Alamy Stock Photo

To maintain a government of, by and for the people, we must ensure that executive branch officials are using their power to benefit the American public, not their own financial interests. This is why we have laws to ensure that there is transparency and accountability when these officials play the stock market. But those laws are not always followed.

This is why Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has filed a complaint with the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Inspector General and the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) concerning officials trading stocks in companies they are banned from trading under federal law. 

The Communications Act prohibits any FCC employee from having a financial interest in any company significantly regulated by the Commission. Despite this, FCC ethics officials have signed off on at least seven FCC employees trading stock in nine companies that are significantly regulated by the Commission. These holdings included some of the largest telecommunications companies in the country such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. 

The investigations requested are necessary because the public has a right to know that FCC officials, who regulate an integral sector of our society, are acting in the public’s interest, not in their own private financial interest.  

The public is already concerned about officials having conflicts of interest with their stock holdings, which is why, as a candidate, President Biden promised to “renew public confidence in our democracy by ensuring that everyone in a position of public trust eliminates even the appearance that their financial holdings could influence decision-making.” 

Given that President Biden has not publicly taken any significant steps to fulfill this promise in the executive branch, each agency must uphold their own ethics rules to make the promise a reality. 

Federal law already recognizes how FCC officials owning certain stock could cause public trust to decrease. That is why it tries to ensure that the public can trust that FCC officials are solely acting in the public’s interest by explicitly restricting ownership of certain stocks. However, this restriction is meaningless if it is not enforced.  

The OGE and Inspector General maintain these ethical guardrails, and so it is imperative for them to investigate this enforcement failure to rebuild public trust.  

Danielle is a Legal Counsel on CLC's Ethics team.