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," Human Rights Defense Center Executive Director Paul Wright wrote in a filing with the commission yesterday.
Pai “never stopped representing” Securus
Pai worked for Jenner & Block for about a year beginning in April 2011. With his decisions at the commission, "he has never stopped representing the interests of his client Securus Technologies," Wright argued. "Based on this conflict, we request that Mr. Pai recuse himself from all decisions involving Securus Technologies in particular and the Inmate Calling Services (ICS) industry in general, and that he disclose any financial interests in same."
Ars asked Pai's office for a response today. A spokesperson said that Pai's work was cleared by the FCC's ethics office and pointed out that the recusal requirement in federal government standards lasts only one year. The spokesperson declined to comment any further.
It isn't uncommon for FCC commissioners to have formerly worked for companies they regulate; Pai himself worked at Verizon as an associate general counsel from 2001 to 2003. Former Chairman Tom Wheeler was a cable and wireless lobbyist before serving as chair. Commissioners are not allowed to "have a financial interest in any commission-related business," the Congressional Research Service says.
When contacted by Ars, Wright could not point to any specific rule broken by Pai.
"I don't know that he is breaking an actual law," Wright told Ars. "Rather, it's the appearance of impropriety of continuing to act in the financial interests of a former client, and we don't know what his current financial ties are with Securus."
Pai has said he wants to take action on inmate calling rates but that he objects to the FCC overstepping its legal authority in doing so. But Pai "has failed to advance any means or alternatives to protect consumers from the exploitation and price gouging they suffer at the hands of the ICS industry, including Securus, his former client," Wright said in his FCC filing.
Wright also wrote:
Since joining the FCC as a Commissioner in 2012, Mr. Pai has vigorously and consistently taken actions to undercut all federal regulation of the ICS industry. Securus enjoys kickback-based monopoly contracts with more than 3,400 correctional facilities, and as a result can exploit and price-gouge at least 1.2 million prisoners and their families in 48 states. The lack of federal regulation guarantees the company’s ability to continue to generate obscene profits at the expense of prisoners and their family members.
The purchase of Securus by hedge fund Platinum Equity is pending before the FCC, Wright wrote. Pai should recuse himself from this decision as well, Wright argued.
Pai disclosed attorney work to Senate
Pai disclosed his former work for Securus to the Senate before being confirmed to the commission in 2012 and again this year for his re-confirmation. Pai's disclosures say he did "a limited amount of work for a few clients," including Securus, Cablevision, Charter, and others.
A Senate questionnaire asked Pai to describe any business relationships or financial transactions from the past 10 years that could result in a conflict of interest. Pai stressed that his work on behalf of Jenner & Block clients was minimal.
"During that time: (1) I did not appear before the Federal Communications Commission, executive branch agencies, Congress, or any court in connection with my work for these clients; (2) my name did not appear on any comments, briefs, or any other written work submitted on their behalf; and (3) to preclude conflicts, my firm established a screen as appropriate to prevent my colleagues from discussing specific matters with me," Pai told the Senate this year.