WASHINGTON - Seeking to restore its reputation tarnished by a prostitution scandal, the Secret Service late Friday tightened conduct rules for its agents to prohibit them from drinking excessively, visiting disreputable establishments while traveling, or taking foreigners to their hotel rooms, the Associated Press has learned.
The new behavior policies apply to Secret Service agents even when they are off duty, barring them from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of working, according to three people briefed on the changes. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency had not announced the new policies publicly. Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan declined to discuss the new rules.
The agencywide changes were intended to stanch the embarrassing disclosures since April 13, when a prostitution scandal erupted in Colombia involving 12 Secret Service agents, officers, and supervisors, and 12 enlisted military personnel who were there ahead of President Obama’s visit to a South American summit. But the policies announced Friday raised doubts about early claims that the behavior discovered in Cartagena was an isolated incident: Why would the Secret Service formally issue new regulations covering thousands of employees if such activities were a one-time occurrence?
The Secret Service already forced eight employees from their jobs and was seeking to revoke the security clearance of another employee, which would effectively force him to resign. Three others have been cleared of serious wrongdoing. The military was conducting a separate investigation but canceled the security clearances of all 12 enlisted personnel.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured senators earlier this week that the incident in Colombia appeared to be an isolated case, saying she would be surprised if it represented a broader cultural problem. The next day, the Secret Service acknowledged it was investigating whether its employees hired strippers and prostitutes in advance of Obama’s visit last year to El Salvador. Prostitution is legal in Colombia and El Salvador.
In a confidential message to senators on Thursday, the Secret Service said its Office of Professional Responsibility had not received complaints about officer behavior in El Salvador but would investigate.
TV stations soon must post campaign advertising rates
WASHINGTON - The Federal Communications Commission voted Friday to require broadcast TV stations to post online the advertising rates they charge political candidates and advocacy groups.
The vote came despite strong opposition from many broadcasters, who have argued that making sensitive advertising rate information so publicly available will undermine stations’ competitiveness and give advertisers unfair leverage over how much they are willing to pay. A coalition of broadcasters put forth a compromise plan that would have required TV stations to put public files online while shielding information about political spending.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski rejected the compromise, noting stations already make available paper records of what they charge political advertisers. He said there was no reason such information should be “stuck in a filing cabinet’’ in an online world. Genachowski and another Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, voted in favor of the new disclosure rules. Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, voted in favor of an overall measure requiring stations to move their public files online but dissented on disclosing the political file.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbying group that represents television stations, criticized the vote.
“By forcing broadcasters to be the only medium to disclose on the Internet our political advertising rates, the FCC jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations,’’ Dennis Wharton, the association’s executive vice president, said in a statement.
By law, television stations offer political candidates advertising rates that are much lower than those offered to other advertisers. Stations also allow the public to review paper records of what they charge political advertisers.
But disclosure advocates say the process of retrieving the information is far too cumbersome, requiring interested parties to show up at the television station during office hours and photocopy many pages of records. More important, advocates argue the public should have easy access to information about how much candidates and other groups are spending on television to lure voters.
“The Commission’s action is an important victory for transparency and accountability in our nation’s public policy, making broadcasters’ public files truly public,’’ said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocated for the change.
The new rule will require stations to digitize and upload the information, in real time, to the FCC’s website, www.fcc.gov.
Network-affiliated stations in the top 50 markets will have six months to comply. For all others, the deadline is 2014.