Ten-term Congressman Ed Royce, who has long been involved in the U.S. government's international propaganda broadcasting, is coming under fire for new "Freedom News Network" legislation that apparently benefits a businessman who refers to himself as a "personal friend" of the Fullerton-based Republican.
Robert Cristiano, who is also a sports psychologist and real estate executive, has created a corporation with the very same Freedom News Network name, purchased lobbying services and the Radio Free Europe building in Prague and hosted a fundraiser for Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This has ethics watchdogs and government officials up in arms because the congressman's bill would replace existing U.S. government broadcasters like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe with a new corporation called Freedom News Network that would receive government funding, The Daily Beast's Tim Mack reports.
"It appears that certain people intend to profit from [Royce's] bill," says an unidentified member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasting, in Mack's piece. "There should be an inquiry. It seems they're playing with American foreign policy to make a quick buck."
Adds Craig Holman, who works for the government watchdog group Public Citizen, "A full investigation of the working relationship between Royce and Cristiano is warranted."
But Royce maintains there is nothing improper about his legislation, shoots down the idea that he and Cristiano are friends and claims both arrived at the Freedom News Network name by coincidence.
"I was unaware that the Freedom News Network name had been mimicked; I will see that this name is changed before the legislation becomes law," Royce told Daily Beast, adding, "Improving U.S. international broadcasting has been a priority for me for more than 20 years."
I can confirm based on speeches, press releases and assorted yammerings from Royce over the years that he has indeed been intimately involved with the issue. But this is curious: Cristiano, who also claimed he and Royce arrived at the Freedom News Network name by coincidence, had lobbyists from his real estate group advocating for a bill that would create an entity with that name before his congressman friend/not friend unveiled his bill. Hmmm …
Noah Bookbinder, executive director for the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is among those dubious of the explanation, telling the Daily Beast: "It's hard for me to imagine that [Royce] and a longtime friend came up with the exact same name for a news network by accident. Whether the proposed legislation is good public policy I don't know, but it does look like it may help people who are supporting Royce financially, and people who are friends. If that's the case, that's troubling, even if it's not a violation of any laws or rules."