As Lobbyist for Huawei, Las Vegas Radio Station May Have Broken Law

Former FCC commissioner says station's lobbying may have broken the law

May 11, 2020

A local Las Vegas radio station may have broken federal communications laws when it failed to disclose its partnership with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, according to a former official of the Federal Communications Commission.

Las Vegas Public Radio, the self-professed "people's voice of Las Vegas," registered to lobby for Huawei in May 2019, promising to "address concerns that Members of Congress, Executive branch and American businesses have about Huawei products/services being developed or manufactured in the US for US consumption" in its lobbying disclosure. In turn, Huawei promised to help the radio station open up a branch in China.

All radio stations are legally required to retain a so-called political file that contains information about all political advertisers who buy air time to discuss "national legislative issues of public importance," according to a 2019 FCC ruling. The law requires broadcasters to present the file at the request of the public. When the Free Beacon requested all of the station's political files regarding its partnership with Huawei, the station acknowledged that it does not have any political files related to Huawei or other Chinese entities.

Gregory LaPorta, the president of LVPR, said in an email that the station does not retain any political files related to Huawei because the station does not have "any issue advertisers whose commercials communicate a message relating to any political matter of national importance."

"If the station is being requested to take a particular stance in covering China and/or Huawei, and if they are being compensated directly or in kind, the issue advertiser should be listed in the political file," said Harold Furtchgott-Roth, a former commissioner of the FCC.

Furchtgott-Roth said that, given the national controversy surrounding the Chinese tech giant, stations that receive monetary or in-kind contributions to air pro-Huawei programming should log that partnership in their political files. Political files contain detailed information about the advertisement, such as broadcast length, date and time of the broadcast, and compensation for the station.

"The station has been saying good things about Huawei … and they're getting payments in-kind from Huawei," he said, referring to the Free Beacon's prior reporting about the station. "The Commission has very clear rules of asking disclosure of that. And if they're not disclosing that, that could be a violation of commission rules."

National security officials have repeatedly warned against allowing Huawei to build 5G infrastructure in the United States and its allies, arguing that the Chinese government can use Huawei-built networks to spy on the West. The company has mounted a massive influence campaign designed to downplay such concerns, hiring former cybersecurity officials as lobbyists and spending millions on public relations. That Huawei was willing to work with a local community radio station in Las Vegas to promote its agenda speaks to the scale of its influence operations.

LaPorta, the LVPR president, previously claimed he has never done any work for Huawei, arguing that he registered as a Huawei lobbyist as a precautionary measure. While LaPorta claims he has never worked for Huawei, LVPR has broadcast messages boosting Huawei at least once in the past.

The station's sparsely active Twitter account announced, for example, that the station was "bringing Huawei to America on something that was never done in the US Market for Huawei" on Dec. 31, 2018. LaPorta previously refused to explain what his station publicly broadcasted that day other than that he was "taking care of friends in high places."

LaPorta also denied receiving either monetary or in-kind compensation for work with Huawei. Federal lobbying disclosures note that "Huawei will assist Mr. LaPorta/LVPR" to make American broadcasting available in China. LVPR is currently seeking to start a radio station in China as well, consulting with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to establish an "independent public broadcasting facility" in the country.

LaPorta denied that Huawei's pledge to help his station expand overseas counts as in-kind compensation. Furchtgott-Roth said that it is unclear whether such a pledge constitutes an in-kind compensation but said such activities warrant an investigation.

"It's certainly something that I suspect someone at the FCC is going to look into," he said.

The FCC declined to a request for comment about whether it is investigating LVPR.