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Did DISH CEO Buy Special Treatment From FCC?

Several Senate Democrats who threw their support behind a policy favored by DISH Network received large donations from DISH CEO Charles Ergen around the same time.

Sens. Al Franken, Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner all received campaign contributions from Ergen totaling $45,000 in the months before they signed a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on behalf of a program favored by DISH, Watchdog reports.

Franken and Markey have received the most support from Ergen, collecting $20,000 and $50,000 respectively since 2010.

The letter, recently obtained by Watchdog, urges Wheeler to continue the practice of setting aside a portion of the licenses available at the FCC’s most recent spectrum auction for small carriers. DISH went on to take advantage of that program, buying up almost half of the available spectrum at the auction while claiming over $3 billion in credits intended to help small carriers compete. (RELATED: NAACP, Steve Forbes Accuse DISH of Bilking Taxpayers Out of $3 Billion)

DISH itself would not have qualified for the program due to its large size, so it created two shell companies that would be eligible for the subsidies, using its vast financial resources to keep competitors at bay before dropping out to allow one of the spinoffs to win the license (and the credits). (RELATED: DISH Set Up a Bunch of Companies to Claim Billions in ‘Small Business’ Credits)

Ergen’s proclivities toward Democrats are long-standing, however, and may not have been influenced by the show of support for DISH. Since 2008, Ergen has donated over $240,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and his donations to the letter-signers do not show any noticeable uptick in the aftermath of the letter.

In response to public outcries critical of DISH’s actions, Wheeler has since vowed that the FCC will revise the rules of its DE program to prevent its exploitation in the future, and has also indicated that the Commission might reject DISH’s claims to the credits. (RELATED: Legal Battle With FCC Not Worth $3 Billion, Advisers Tell DISH)

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