Demand Congressional Investigation: NEA Conference Call Broke Laws

In the aftermath of the Andrew Breitbart/James O’Keefe/Hannah Giles-broken ACORN scandal, President Obama and his allies in Congress have distanced themselves from the community organizing goliath. Congress has cut off funds, and Obama has refused to speak about the matter. End of story, right?

Wrong.

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There’s only one problem: the ACORN mentality – pinpointing and mobilizing particular groups in support of a radical-left agenda – is no longer restricted to government-funded private non-profits like ACORN. The ACORN mentality now dominates the government itself. Taxpayer dollars are being used by elected officials to encourage the deification of President Obama and his agenda. And one of the chief organs of the government propaganda machine is the National Endowment for the Arts.

Let’s start from the beginning. On August 25, artist Patrick Courrielche told the story of a conference call he attended on August 10. That conference call was hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The goal of the conference call: “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.” The call would push “a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!”

If this sounds suspicious to you, that’s because it is. Never before has the NEA explicitly urged artists to tackle particular social issues like health care. But that is how this Administration works.

The people behind the conference call, Courrielche reported, were Yosi Sargent, Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts; Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Nell Abernathy, Director of Outreach for United We Serve; Thomas Bates, Vice President of Civic Engagement for Rock the Vote; and Michael Skolnik, Political Director for Russell Simmons. Sargent sent the actual email invitation. When The Washington Times called Sargent for confirmation, Sargent denied involvement with the email. He claimed that Skolnik had sent the invitation.

He lied.

The email came directly from Sargent – which is to say, from the NEA itself. Most astonishingly, the email contained a copy of a notice from United We Serve. That notice read: “A call has come in to our generation. A call from the top. A call from a house that is White. … President Obama is asking us to come together … Now is the time for us to answer this call.” Sargent has since been “reassigned” at the NEA.

Two days after the conference call, on August 12, 21 separate arts organizations came out and endorsed Obama’s health care plan. One of the endorsing organizations, the non-profit “charitable organization” Americans for the Arts, denied any presence on the conference call.

Like Sargent, they too were lying.

According to The Washington Times, both a participant on the call and a partial list of participants confirm that Americans for the Arts board member Kerry Washington was on the call. In the past, Washington has testified before Congress as a representative of the Americans for the Arts Artists Committee.

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Kerry Washington

Americans for the Arts is a 501(c)3, which means that legally, it must remain apolitical and cannot endorse candidates. It has an associated 501(c)4, ArtsVote or Arts Action Fund, a non-profit political action wing that can stump for causes, not for candidates. Naturally, the two wings are closely associated; the CEO of both is Robert Lynch, who participated in a subsequent NEA call that occurred on August 27. The 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 have the same Washington D.C. and New York addresses. And Lynch, naturally, supports President Obama to the hilt.

In fact, the private organizational participants sponsoring the call comprise what can best be described as ACORN For The Arts. Each and every organization was deeply involved with President Obama as a candidate, and each and every one pledges allegiance to him now that he occupies the Oval Office.

Americans for the Arts: There is no hard line between the Americans for the Arts 501(c)3 and the Arts Action Fund 501(c)4 websites. In visiting this page, readers find a “Headline of the Week” currently entitled “New Report Shows Cost of Healthcare Critical to Arts Nonprofits.” There is also a legislative message: “Tell your Senators and Representatives to support a funding increase for the National Endowment for the Arts to help support our nation’s cultural treasures and the arts in under-served communities.” There is also an immigration-related message: “There are currently two challenges affecting the international arts community: unreasonable delays by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on foreign artists obtaining U.S. entry visas and the lack of funding for cultural exchange programs.” This is a lobbying organization, pure and simple. And it is a leftist lobbying organization.

Rock the Vote: The Rock the Vote website is currently wholly a lobbying effort for Obama’s health care plan. The website actually comes up on Google as “Rock the Vote on Health Care.” And the front page features Zach Braff and Donald Faison of Scrubs pushing for Obama’s health care plan, as well as a giant slogan reading “YES WE CARE: DEMAND HEALTH CARE.” There was also explicit rallying for Obama: “September 17, 2009: This morning at 11:00 a.m. ET, President Obama will be at the University of Maryland in College Park to talk about health reform.”

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Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons: Simmons is a contributing editor at The Huffington Post, where he is a huge Obama supporter – his admiration borders on the creepy. Obama, Simmons wrote, “is the candidate for the furthering of [the raising of consciousness] – his spiritual concern underlies a deep compassion and also a toughness that comes from being in touch with and at ease with yourself.” Clearly, a man who is a critical and objective artist with regard to the Obama Administration.

The government involvement here is what is truly stunning. Not only did the government sponsor a conference call specifically dedicated to recruiting artists to the Obama re-election and political strategy campaign – and not only did they co-sponsor the call with Obama partisan organizations -- they list lobbying organizations on their website for United We Serve (Serve.gov). As Dana Loesch of BigGovernment.com reported, ACORN is included in the “non-partisan” organizations listed by Serve.gov, among the other participants like the AARP grassroots advocacy organization (which asks you to “Be a part of a team of grassroots advocates that encourage elected officials to address the issue of health care reform…”).

All of this – particularly the government-sponsored conference call itself – is in blatant violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act (19 U.S. Code 1913), which explicitly provides: “No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy or appropriation …”

Violation of this law, in turn, violates 31 U.S. Code 1352, which bans use of “funds appropriated by any Act [from being] expended by the recipient of a Federal contract, grant, loan, or cooperative agreement to pay any person for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress in connection with any Federal action …”

According to a government guide put out by the National Institutes of Health Ethics Program (which is a governmental agency: ethics.od.nih.gov), the Anti-Lobbying Act prevents government employees from engaging in “substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaigns … expressly urging individuals to contact government officials in support of or opposition to legislation …. Provid[ing] administrative support for lobbing activities of private organizations …” Every provision was violated by this conference call, which urged artists to support the president’s agenda – and which connected potential voters to private lobbying organizations indirectly, as banned by the Act itself.

Violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act carries punishment: “Any person who makes an expenditure … shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $10,000 and not more than $100,000 for each such expenditure.” And that’s not all: “An imposition of a civil penalty under this subsection does not prevent the United States from seeking any other remedy that the United States may have for the same conduct that is the basis for the imposition of such civil penalty.” In other words, criminal prosecution is available here.

Every government employee involved in this conference call should be fined and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We need a full Congressional investigation – we already know that it infects members of the White House staff, including Buffy Wicks. The transformation of our government into a self-entrenched continuous campaigning machine must be stopped now.


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