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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama and NEA... Was It Legal?

Big Hollywood is on a rollwith the explosive news, with audio and transcript of a conference call between Obama official, Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and pro- Obama members of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

On August 10th, the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and the Corporation for National and Community Service hosted a conference call with a handpicked arts group. This arts group played a key role in Obama’s arts effort during his election campaign, as declared by the organizers of the call, and many on the call played a role in the now famous Obama Hope poster.

Much of the talk on the conference call was a build up to what the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was specifically asking of this group. In the following segment, Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, clearly identifies this arts group as a pro-Obama collective and warns them of some “specific asks” that will be delivered later in the meeting.

You have to read the whole thing as they walk everyone through the original denials from the NEA and the White House about the political purpose for the call, which has been proven to be lies not that the transcript and audio is available.

Since the call was closed to the media, perhaps they thought they could get away with the denials, but that has been blown wide open by Big Hollywood, who did the homework that the mainstream media didn't do and now find themselves playing catch up.

By their own words and actions the NEA has attempted to distance the agency from the initiation of this meeting and have been outright dishonest in their role.

If the NEA has done nothing wrong, why have they been dishonest?

From their own words this effort was not something that the NEA regularly performed; otherwise their Communications Director wouldn’t have called this a “brand new conversation.”

As to the statement that the conference call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda, I believe the handpicked pro-Obama participants on the call and the vehemently debated issues that the NEA encouraged the group to address show clear intent on the part of the NEA. And that intent was to create art that aligned with the administration’s partisan agenda.

On September 4th I called the chairman of the NEA, Rocco Landesman, requesting a response to these inconsistencies as well as to request a statement from the NEA regarding their brand new arts efforts. As of the publishing of this article I have not received a response.

With each passing day, the National Endowment for the Arts’ credibility is tragically deteriorating. The only action that can restore its credibility is a full disclosure and accounting of the events that led to the launch of this arts effort, the rationale behind this new NEA function, and a clear explanation of the obvious contradictions in their statements related to this conference call.

More details at the Big Government website.

Patterico's Pontifications questions the legalities as does Power Line, who admits to not having the time to conclude the legality one way or another but explains what areas needs to be investigated.

Second, 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.

The story is just beginning and the MSM is going to have some hard work ahead to catch up, then to figure out a way to spin it, explain, excuse or justify why the White House and the NEA lied about it originally.