Nov. 10, 2008: A former National Endowment for the Arts chief is named to the Obama transition team. Bill Ivey, NEA head under Bill Clinton, will handle arts and cultural issues in the transition.
Jan. 13, 2009: Arts groups lobby the Obama transition team for stimulus money. As part of a larger group, Americans for the Arts, the Literary Network and Theatre Communications Group propose to the transition team that more than $1 billion be funneled through the NEA as part of the stimulus plan. All three would later endorse the Obama administration’s health care initiative. Robert L. Lynch, head of Americans for the Arts, meets twice with transition officials.
Late January: An Obama transition official proposes linking NEA grantees to the White House. “I worked hard to try to forge a link between the arts agencies and mainstream policy in the West Wing of the White House. I know that there is serious consideration being given to placing an arts-and-culture portfolio within the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Engagement in the Domestic Policy Council. I worked hard to get that done and I think that will happen,” says former NEA chief Bill Ivey.
Feb. 17: President Obama signs the stimulus bill. Included in the bill are millions for NEA grants.
April 30: The first major NEA grants of the Obama administration are announced. Groups that later would endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $700,000.
May 12: Rocco Landesman is nominated to head the NEA.
June 19: Obama transition adviser Ivey reveals a plan to connect “administration objectives” and “cultural actors.” Mr. Ivey is taped saying, “I wanted to see some real connection between administration objectives and the capacity of all the cultural actors in government. I made some progress. I got some agreement.”
July 7: The Obama administration releases the first NEA grants from the stimulus package. Groups that later would endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $1.2 million.
Aug. 6: The NEA invites arts groups to discuss the United We Serve initiative. The invitation comes from the e-mail account of Yosi Sergant, NEA director of communications. Later when The Washington Times asks Mr. Sergant about the e-mail, he lies about his involvement in the conference call.
Aug. 7: Mr. Landesman is confirmed as NEA head.
Aug. 10: NEA holds a conference call asking grantees to get involved in politics.
Aug. 12: Two days after the conference call, arts groups endorse the Obama health plan. “We call on Congress to pass: A health care reform bill that will create a public health option. … There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt.” Sixteen of the 21 groups that signed the press release either directly received grants from the NEA or are affiliated with groups that received NEA grants within four months of issuing the endorsement.
Aug. 13: The groups release a new version of the statement. “As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level … we call on Congress to pass a health reform bill,” the groups write. The statement is published on the Americans for the Arts Web site.
By John Solomon
How the government's punishing of the exposure of official wrongdoing can linger for years