Former Sen. Gordon Smith will soon announce plans to step down as CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, three people familiar with the matter told POLITICO on Tuesday — a major shift for one of the top lobbying posts in Washington.
The three requested anonymity to discuss deliberations not yet made public. Smith has led the broadcasters’ group for more than a decade.
Asked about these plans, NAB confirmed that Smith will leave his role on Dec. 31 and that Curtis LeGeyt, the trade group’s chief operating officer, will step in to lead the group effective Jan. 1 of next year. LeGeyt is a former Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill and had worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, which could boost his standing under a Biden administration and at a time when Democrats control both chambers of Congress.
An early exit: Smith’s departure would come prior to the end of his contract, which runs through March 2023. The former Republican senator, who represented Oregon, is now expected to leave at the end of this calendar year.
In a planned video message set for release soon, Smith will emphasize his devotion to his family and religion and that he has “put on hold” on these activities for decades now. “I look forward to time with [family], doing things that grandfathers ought to do,” Smith said in the message. “I’m also pleased to announce my intention to transition to a new role at NAB, an advisory role for three more years.”
“This transition will be seamless for you and secure for staff,” Smith added. “This is the right time and the right person to occupy this position of NAB CEO.”
Jordan Wertlieb, who heads the NAB Joint Board of Directors, will also release a video message thanking Smith and noting that Smith has worked closely with the board on the succession plan. In Smith’s advisory role, he will still lobby on behalf of broadcasters, according to Wertlieb.
Amid earlier speculation that former House Energy and Commerce Chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) may have been in the mix to head the group, NAB has previously said Smith intended to fill that contract. In late 2020, Smith was admitted to the hospital for a stroke but was believed to have made a full recovery.
Key context: Smith’s departure would mark a major shift on K Street and a changing of the guard for one of the top lobbying posts in Washington, D.C. Smith has repeatedly testified before Capitol Hill on the evolution of the video marketplace.
His trade association scored a notable win at the end of 2019 in a lobbying battle regarding an expiring satellite TV law, safeguarding the revenue that broadcasters charge cable and satellite companies for retransmitting their content. During recent years, Smith also helped protect broadcast TV stations as they sold airwaves to wireless carriers in a high-profile FCC auction, secure an overhaul of music copyright law to account for the rise of digital streaming and relocate NAB’s Washington headquarters.
NAB, a lobbying heavyweight, reported spending more than $9 million on its advocacy last year, although financial strains from the coronavirus pandemic have taken a toll. The broadcast group has hoped to resume its annual Las Vegas show in person later this year.
What’s next: NAB is expected to officially announce the change on Wednesday.