FCC’s Hoffman Looks Back, Moves Forward

Adonis Hoffman, chief of staff to FCC commissioner and former chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, is exiting the FCC at the end of the month. Hoffman was tapped for the post in 2013 after serving as senior VP/general counsel of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. But Hoffman also brought plenty of FCC and Capitol Hill experience to the post. He was deputy chief of the then-Cable Bureau under FCC chair William Kennard in the late 1990s and subcommittee staff director, counsel on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and legislative counsel to the Congressional Black Caucus chairman.

In this exclusive, two-part exit interview with B&C Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, Hoffman looks ahead and provides a read on the currently contentious mood at the FCC. An edited transcript follows. (Part 2 will be published in our March 30 issue.)

Why are you leaving and what’s next?

I’m leaving to head up a global think tank on corporate citizenship—an organization that helps business leaders, boards, CEOs and investors navigate important social, consumer and policy issues, especially companies in the media, communications and technology space.

Why now?

At this stage of my career, it’s a logical next step. I served two tours on Capitol Hill, two tours at the FCC, as [general counsel] of an advertising trade association, as a lawyer/lobbyist in private practice, foreign policy analyst, university professor and corporate director. This will allow me to use that experience in pursuit of progress and results.

What have you learned from your time at the FCC and what are some of its challenges?

Business is a force for good in our society. Media and tech firms really want to act responsibly, but they do not always know how to align their corporate interests with broader societal expectations. Issues like privacy, diversity, data security and consumer trust are sometimes hidden on the corporate agenda. When there are major proceedings like mergers or votes or hearings, these issues come to the forefront, and it is not always pretty.

Businesses face regulatory challenges every day that were not intended by Congress or the FCC. Look at the TCPA—the Telephone Consumer Protection Act—for example. This consumer protection, anti-telemarketing statute has been leveraged by aggressive plaintiffs’ lawyers to line their pockets lavishly with millions, while consumers usually get peanuts. The proliferation of class-action litigation involving the TCPA has reached an outlandish level. I think the TCPA should be known by its real acronym—“Total Cash for Plaintiffs’ Attorneys.” This is just one example where the public interest is not being advanced responsibly.

The Internet of Things puts technology into the lives of people in ways only imagined. While this delivers unheralded benefit to society, it demands unprecedented responsibility from corporations to be accountable, respectful and trustworthy to consumers.

How has the FCC changed, if at all, since your first time there?

It has been a full agenda on the eighth floor, and I appreciate the opportunity to work with commissioner Clyburn, the chairman, other commissioners and colleagues. The FCC is a great agency. There are scores of smart and dedicated public servants who work hard for the American people and take their role seriously. With an expanded communications market today, however, the stakes are much higher and the public debate is a bit harsher. Deals have more zeroes than before, and there is more partisanship, which is probably reflective of the overall tenor in Washington now.

What Are Your Goals for the think tank?

With consolidation, convergence and competition in the communications space, companies have tremendous opportunities to strike business partnerships with new entrants and entrepreneurs from every quarter. I hope to help build new levels of economic collaboration across all media platforms. Companies have to balance the need to add value to their own enterprise with the value of enriching the broader society. I would like to think it is a noble cause. And that is where I can help.

My favorite sketch is Picasso’s Don Quixote—that should tell you everything else you need to know about me.

Anything you want to say about commissioner Clyburn?

Commissioner Clyburn is a class act. She is one of the few people I know in Washington who does not have an axe to grind and is not out to hurt anybody. She is deliberative, meticulous and private when it comes to the decision-making process. She runs a tight ship, too. People assume she is more liberal than she really is because she champions the underdog and the under-represented. I think that is more her sense of fairness and equity than an ideological view. True to her Southern roots, commissioner Clyburn is always gracious and respectful of protocol. And she has a disarming sense of humor, which allows her to connect easily with people from every walk of life.

I will surely miss her classic one-liners and the laughter in our daily staff meetings.

In part two of this interview, running next week, Hoffman weighs in on diversity, both inside and outside the commission.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.