Biden's FCC Pick Reached Favorable Legal Settlement With TV Networks Just One Day After Her Nomination

Gigi Sohn / Getty Images
January 26, 2022

Just one day after President Joe Biden nominated Gigi Sohn to the federal agency that oversees television networks, her nonprofit secured a favorable legal settlement with those same networks that reduced her financial liability by more than $30 million.

According to a confidential settlement revealed by Bloomberg Law, Sohn's now-defunct nonprofit, Locast, agreed to pay a number of top broadcasters $700,000 after it illegally streamed their programming. That amount is a mere fraction of the $32 million Locast was initially ordered to pay. Sohn, who served as one of the nonprofit's three directors, signed the agreement one day after Biden announced her nomination to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the same networks she settled with.

Sohn's settlement with the likes of ABC, CBS, and Fox has impeded her confirmation process. During a December hearing, Republican senators Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) expressed concern over the lawsuit, with Blunt asking Sohn if the ordeal would impact her "dealings with the very same local broadcasters that sued" Locast. Last week, Wicker called for a second hearing on Sohn's confirmation due in part to the "timing of this settlement in relation to her nomination."

"The possibility of the nominee's future financial liability to a number of companies regulated by the FCC, and the timing of this settlement in relation to her nomination, demands a full discussion by the committee to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the ability for this nominee to act without any cloud of ethical doubt," Wicker said. "The committee needs to hold a new hearing on this matter to provide the nominee an opportunity to fully address these concerns."

While Bloomberg Law wrote that Sohn's settlement "appears to undercut" Wicker's "stated reason for opposing her nomination," others aren't so sure. American Commitment president Phil Kerpen questioned both the timing and terms of the settlement, arguing that it raises new ethics questions.

"How does this eliminate criticism? The terms of the deal are incredibly favorable to her," Kerpen told the Washington Free Beacon. "How could anyone say that she can now objectively vote on anything involving any of the big broadcast networks that just basically let her company off the hook?"

Bloomberg Law initially published Sohn's settlement details under the headline, "FCC Nominee's Settlement Undercuts Rationale for Blocking Her." Hours after publication, the outlet changed that headline to read, "Biden FCC Nominee Settles Case That Spurred GOP Senator's Fight." Bloomberg Law did not immediately return a request for comment on the change.

Sohn's tenure on the board of the illegal TV streaming service is not the only reason Republican senators are hesitant to confirm her. Sohn, a longtime progressive activist, has also called for the shuttering of right-wing networks throughout her career, views that Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) in December said "completely disqualify" her from public office.

Published under: FCC , Gigi Sohn