Texas Republican Eyed for FCC Post

Aug 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

If President Bush wins re-election, industry lobbyists believe the odds are good that he will name Rebecca Armendariz Klein to chair the Federal Communications Commission. Several of those lobbyists are backing her current long-shot campaign for a U.S. congressional seat in Texas, some say in anticipation of her appointment.

Ms. Klein, 39, is a longtime Bush insider and former chairwoman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission. She currently is the Republican underdog in a battle against a five-term incumbent in a heavily Democratic district in the Lone Star State.

If Ms. Klein fails to win her congressional seat, industry sources believe there’s a strong possibility that she will be named as the FCC’s first female and first Hispanic chairperson due to her long ties to the president.

Among her claims to fame, she served as a co-chair of the Bush-Cheney transition team for the FCC in 2000.

She also worked in the White House in 1990, during President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Major telecommunications firms that have contributed to her congressional campaign include phone giants Qwest Communications, SBC Communications, Verizon Communications and Time Warner.

Among the key industry lobbyists who have donated is former FCC Chairman Dick Wiley, who now heads one of the biggest media law firms in Washington.

“I was trying to help her get elected,” said Mr. Wiley.

“[Her prospects for an FCC appointment] is another reason to support her,” confirmed another industry contributor to her campaign.

At least some in the watchdog community say the fact that Ms. Klein is getting money from the industry now creates a conflict of interest that would be used to fight any appointment to the FCC.

“This is fodder for a campaign against her,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

But Andrew Schwartzman, president of the activist Media Access Project, said Ms. Klein has a reputation as a “straight shooter” and dismissed as “trivial” the conflict criticisms.

“Not knowing her, I would be loath to assume that she would be unduly influenced by this, particularly because [the campaign money] seems to coming from all directions anyway,” Mr. Schwartzman said.

In an interview, Ms. Klein said rumors about a future for her at the FCC have been swirling since she headed the Texas PUC. But she said she hasn’t discussed an FCC job with anyone and is completely focused on her congressional race.

“I’m in this race to win, not for an imaginary consolation prize,” she said. “Every dollar I’ve gotten is from people who know me as being hardworking, analytical and fearless on behalf of the public interest.”

Among her reasons for optimism is that she’s running for a new district that’s 70 percent Hispanic and runs from south Austin to the town of McAllen near the Texas-Mexico border. Her Democratic opponent, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who won an overwhelming majority of the vote in his last congressional contest, is Anglo.

A reason for doubt: She has raised $450,995 for her campaign to Mr. Doggett’s $1,158,351, according to the most recent reports available from the Center for Responsive Politics.

“It’s going to be a difficult race, but it is winnable,” she said.

Her prospects for the FCC’s chairmanship depend on Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s stepping down. Mr. Powell, whose term runs through June 2007, has not indicated he is leaving. If he does leave, Republican FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin, who served as a co-chair on the Bush-Cheney 2000 transition team for the agency, is expected to make a bid for FCC chair.