Skip navigation

HRDC accuses FCC chairman of having conflict of interest

International Business Times, Aug. 11, 2017.

FCC head Ajit Pai accused of 'clear conflict of interest' in prison phone company deal

The Human Rights Defense Center says that Pai never stopped representing Securus even after his federal appointment.

Rights groups have called out Chairman of Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Ajit Pai for an alleged conflict of interest in the sale of prison phone company Securus Technologies.

Securus Technologies is in the process of being bought by hedge fund Platinum Equity and the decision is pending with the FCC.

Ajit Pai represented Securus before being appointed as the commissioner of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

As the chair of FCC, Pai directed the commission to drop their court's defence of rules that put a cap on phone rates charged by prison phone companies. This led phone companies like Securus to charge high rates, according to a report by Ars Technica.

Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) executive director Paul Wright has pointed out that there are no actual rules or laws being broken by Pai, but "the appearance of impropriety of continuing to act in the financial interests of a former client" is what they are fighting.

Wright wrote in a filing with the FCC that "(Ajit Pai) represented Securus as its attorney while employed as a partner with the law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP, immediately preceding his confirmation as FCC Commissioner in May 2012," he added, "he has never stopped representing the interests of his client Securus Technologies".

Wright has gone on to argue that Pai needs to "recuse himself from all decisions" that have to do with Securus as well as with the Inmate Calling Services industry on the whole. He also urged Pai to disclose any financial interests that he might have in this case.

Obama-era chairman of the FCC Tom Wheeler reportedly voted in October 2015 in favour of imposing rate caps of 11 cents to 22 cents per minute for interstate and intrastate calls going out of prisons. Actual costs on the other hand are much higher, sometimes going up to $14 (£10.79) per minute, says the report.

A spokesperson for the commissioner, in a statement to Ars, said that the work carried out by Pai was cleared by the FCC ethics office. Recusal standards — set by the government with regards to how long a person has to recuse themselves during cases involving conflict of interest — only lasts one year since the time of appointment, the person added.