On Thursday, the US Embassy in Singapore partnered with HBO and The American Club to screen the hyper-partisan movie “Game Change” an officially sponsored event.
As Paul Karl Lukacs of The Nomad Lawyer blog reports, the airing of the movie raises potential legal questions:
The Hatch Act prohibits many U.S. government employees from engaging in partisan political activity or from using their offices for partisan ends. Most State Department employees would be prohibited from engaging in political activity, defined in part as as “activity directed at the success or failure of a political party.”
The US Ambassador to Singapore, David Adelman, was appointed by President Barack Obama and served as one of the president’s fundraising bundlers.
Public Affairs Counselor Eric Watnik claims the decision to air the Palin-bashing “Game Change” was not politically motivated:
We are working with the American Club and HBO to show the film Game Change at the American Club. This is part of a series of events we are doing to remind American citizens on the important right to vote in the upcoming U.S. elections. Our consular section will be on hand at the event to hand out information about how to register to vote while overseas,” said public affairs counselor Eric Watnik in response to my inquiries.”The United States Embassy is not promoting any specific party or agenda. We intend to show a series of pieces regarding American politics as the November election draws near,” Watnik continued. “Let me be perfectly clear: The United States Embassy in Singapore does not promote nor endorse any party or candidate.
Furthermore, Watnik says the decision to feature “Game Change” was his alone and not at the direction of Ambassador Adelman. When we reached out to Ambassador Adelman’s office for comment, Watnik pointed us to a response he posted at The Nomad Lawyer blog:
Neither the Ambassador nor the DCM decided whether the embassy would cosponsor the screening of Game Change. I did. Indeed, while the Ambassador and DCM generally encourage the Embassy staff to support American films they did not participate in the decision-making process relating to this event. My goal with this event is to promote American films, support American organizations, and encourage a better understanding of the American system of free speech and democracy. Additionally, I saw the program as an opportunity to inform Americans living overseas of the rules governing voting. The intention was not to promote a specific person or partisan interest.
Still, in a prior statement, Watnik conceded that the purpose of the event was to “remind American citizens on the important right to vote in the upcoming U.S. elections” and that “our consular section will be on hand at the event to hand out information about how to register to vote while overseas.”
Did the office of the Obama-appointed ambassador to Singapore, who was previously a fund raising bundler for the Obama campaign, intend to use airing of “Game Change” to send a partisan message before the consular encouraged individuals to register to vote overseas? And do such actions constitute a violation of the Hatch Act barring State Department officials from engaging in partisan political activities?