Update:September 8, 2009: Patrick Courrielche has revealed a second conference call similar to the first one occurred in late August.
Syndicated columnist and ABC’s This Week panelist George Will believes that the National Endowment for the Arts likely “broke some laws” after the federal agency recently hosted a controversial teleconference call of various artists. Mr. Will spoke about his concerns on the NEA this Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos (see video below). Big Hollywood’s Patrick Courrielche was on the conference call and described what was being asked of them:
Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so
One of the first places to explore is whether or not the NEA’s solicitation to artists on the conference call violated the Hatch Act. According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel:
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government, District of Columbia government and some state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.
These federal and D.C. employees may not-
- use official authority or influence to interfere with an election
- solicit or discourage political activity of anyone with business before their agency
- solicit or receive political contributions (may be done in certain limited situations by federal labor or other employee organizations)
- be candidates for public office in partisan elections
- engage in political activity while:
- on duty
- in a government office
- wearing an official uniform
- using a government vehicle
- wear partisan political buttons on duty
During the Bush administration, Lurita Doan, an Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, was forced to resign in the Spring of 2008 after being under fire for Hatch Act violations by California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman and others. My Washington Times colleague, Quin Hillyer wrote about it extensively on the American Spectator blog in 2007:
The idea is to punish Ms. Doan for daring (she’s an African-American) to actually be a Republican despite her supposed place in life as a vassal of the Democratic Party—and, while they are at it, use her as a stepping stone to Rove, because, well, the newest allegation against her involves a meeting conducted by an aide to Rove, and, well, all roads lead to Rove and of course the Dems all think Rove is evil, so, golly gee, there just MUST be something Roven in the state of Doanmark!
For the unitiated: a group of political appointees at GSA attended a brown bag lunch in January at which a Rove aide gave a report on the recent elections and what they meant for the long-term political outlook. (Political appointees talking politics: The horrors!!) At some point, Doan supposedly asked what “they” could do to “help our candidates.”
That’s it. There is no allegation that anybody used those words as a prompt to actually do anything political. No allegation that anybody was pressured to do anything. No nothing — just a question that, frankly, on its face, seems rather innocent.
But the Office of Special Counsel, led by a guy himself embroiled in controversy who is now making a name for himself sucking up to theWashington Post (could he hope that the Post will help him get off the hook for the allegations against him?), concluded that Ms. Doan violated the Hatch Act that forbids politicization of the bureaucracy.
Compared to Ms. Doan, the NEA’s actions on the conference call is much more egregious. The Washington Times contacted Mr. Waxman’s office and is waiting on a response. The Washington Times also contacted White House Office of Public Engagement’s Associate Director Kalpen Modi on these issues, and we are waiting for a response from his office as well.
Too many unanswered questions are surrounding the NEA’s and White House’s artsy conference call. The public should know who was on the call and whether or not the participants could be recipients of federal grants. The White House and the tax-payer funded NEA may want to start providing these answers soon.