A Big Donor, Nancy Pelosi and the FCC

Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission


Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

We recently told you that Federal Communications Commission Chair

Jessica Rosenworcel’s

move to scuttle Standard General’s acquisition of TV station operator

Tegna Inc.

is dubious as a matter of law. Now evidence suggests she may have been doing the bidding of a major Democratic donor.

Byron Allen’s

Allen Media Group made a play for Tegna in autumn 2021. Bloomberg News reported at the time that he was seeking to raise money from investment funds to buy Tegna and roll his existing stations into the new company. Around the same time, Mr. Allen made several contributions to then House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

and Democratic campaign committees.

According to Federal Election Commission records, in early October 2021 he donated to Mrs. Pelosi’s campaign ($2,900); to PAC to the Future ($5,000); the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($36,500) and the Nancy Pelosi Victory Fund ($44,000). That December he contributed another $219,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Was he trying to leverage political pressure on Tegna to accept his bid? If so, he wasn’t successful—at least not with Tegna. In February 2022, the company agreed to an offer from Standard General financed in part by

Apollo Global Management,

which would infuse the new company with capital to expand local programming.

A few months later, Ms. Rosenworcel’s Media Bureau opened the deal to public comment. It was an unusual decision. The FCC doesn’t have the authority to block acquisitions, but the 1934 Communications Act lets the agency block the transfer of station licenses if it finds they don’t serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Leftwing groups piled in with comments opposing the deal.

On Oct. 6, 2022, Mrs. Pelosi and then chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Frank Pallone

sent Ms. Rosenworcel a letter praising the agency’s decision to seek more information and urging it to do a “more thorough review of the public interest claims.”

FEC records show that five days later—a month before the midterm election, as Democrats scrambled to hold their House majority—Mr. Allen donated another $250,000 to the House Majority PAC. Was the timing a coincidence? Were we born yesterday?

On Feb. 24 of this year, Ms. Rosenworcel’s Media Bureau chief issued a memo designating the deal for an administrative hearing. This will likely have the effect of killing the Standard General transaction without a vote of the full FCC since the financing deadline for the deal is May 22. In the past 30 years, no broadcast license transfer has completed the FCC hearing process in fewer than 358 days.

Who would be the most likely beneficiary if the Standard General deal falls through? Why, none other than Mr. Allen. A spokesperson for the Allen Media Group says Mr. Allen’s campaign contributions and Mrs. Pelosi’s letter weren’t connected and that he has contributed to numerous charities and political campaigns for decades.

It sure looks like the former House Speaker lobbied the FCC Chair to scuttle a business deal in a way that would promote the business interests of a major Democratic donor. Standard General offered Tegna a better financial deal, but the hedge fund appears to have been outbid by Mr. Allen’s campaign contributions and Nancy Pelosi’s political influence.

Journal Editorial Report: The week’s best and worst from Kim Strassel, Kate Bachelder Odell, Mary O’Grady and Dan Henninger Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the March 22, 2023, print edition.


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