Monday, September 21, 2009

Obama Administration Politicizing The National Endowment For The Arts?

The target in the crosshairs of this week is the apparent politicization of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by the Obama administration. Fresh off their thrashing of ACORN last week, they have launched a broad side today. This seems a lot more complicated on it's face then the ACORN scandal partly because a lot on information is being thrown at you very fast (see 'link fest' below). Boiling the controversy down to its most basic element; it is illegal to to use public money for partisan projects and to grant/deny federal funds based on the potential recipient's political actions/opinions, both may have happened. (bold mine)

"I'm not sure whether the NEA has ever retracted its false claim that it didn't organize the call, but it announced that it was reassigning Sergant--to what, we don't know--and the affair seemingly came to an end, although Patrick Courrielche has continued to post new information at Big Hollywood.

Much remains to be said about this incident and what it tells us about the Obama administration. Attention has centered on the role played by the NEA; understandably so, given that agency's past scandals. But the NEA was not the only organizer of the conference call. Sergant's email said that the conference call was sponsored by "the United We Serve team, in collaboration with the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Arts." So the White House was specifically involved in the effort.
Ms. Wicks was on the call as the official representative of the White House, and it's hard to read her comments as anything but a call for artists and arts groups to engage in a partisan campaign on behalf of the Obama administration's policy agenda. That's her "ask," as she puts it in the language of Washington lobbyists. She goes so far as to say that she wants to engage her listeners--"powerful voices for change in your own right"--"in really the process of governing, of being part of this administration."
the operation may well have been illegal. Public funds are not supposed to be expended to support partisan projects. Beyond that, it is unconstitutional to grant or deny federal funds on the basis of the recipient's political actions or opinions. National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley. The NEA is the single largest funder of the arts, and several participants in the August 10 conference call had recently received NEA checks. It would have been entirely reasonable for those on the phone call to conclude that future NEA funding could be influenced by their willingness to play ball with the Obama administration's political agenda. Moreover, the Hatch Act limits the ability of federal employees to engage in partisan politics. Sergant's sending of the email invitation to artists and arts groups, using his government email account, could be considered a bright line violation of the act, as could his apparent solicitation of political support from any arts group that had an application for funding pending before the NEA. Likewise, Ms. Wicks' participation in the call would appear to be illegal if she was "on duty" and if the call was deemed political in nature.

It would take a thorough knowledge of the facts and more legal research than I've had time for to draw a conclusion as to whether the White House or NEA violated the law in connection with the artist outreach, but at a minimum an investigation is in order.
" NEA politicization 'link fest':

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