Democratic Committee Leaders Urge DOJ & FBI to Investigate Fake Public Comments

Jan 24, 2018 Issues: Law Enforcement, Regulatory Issues

Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) today requested the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expand a previously requested investigation into the potentially illegal submission of fake comments to federal regulatory agencies.   

The four Democratic committee leaders made their request in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.  It follows a June request from Pallone that the DOJ and FBI investigate whether fake comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the net neutrality public comment period violated federal law.  In addition, earlier this month, in response to a December request by Pallone, Cummings, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and eight other Democrats, the Government Accountability Office agreed to investigate and report on the extent that outside groups were using false identities during federal rulemaking processes, most notably, during the FCC’s net neutrality public comment period.

Since June, reports have indicated that other regulatory agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor, also received fake comments that may have similarly violated the law.  A significant portion of the fake comments submitted to the CFPB – opposing new regulations to protect consumers from unscrupulous payday lending practices – are reported to have come from a comment-generating platform and web address used by the Community Financial Services Association of America, a trade group representing payday lenders. 

“The practice of manipulating agency actions by flooding rulemaking dockets with fake comments is far more widespread than it appeared when you were initially asked to investigate.  Some Americans’ voices are being co-opted in what appears to be a systemic attempt to corrupt federal policy-making,” the House Democrats wrote to Sessions and Wray. “Immediate action is needed in order to restore public trust in the federal rulemaking process.  We urge you to use the full investigative powers of the FBI and DOJ to promptly uncover who is behind this conduct and prosecute the parties under applicable federal law.”

The Democrats are requesting an update from the DOJ and FBI on their efforts to address the issue by no later than February 7, 2018.

The letter to Attorney General Sessions and FBI Director Wray can be found HERE