Chicago Pay-for-Play Comes to Washington

Kerry Picket has done a great job of piecing together a story that looks an awful lot like administration officials using taxpayer money to buy support for its agenda. (Full disclosure: Kerry and I both work for the Washington Times.) Check out the timeline:

November 10, 2008: Former NEA chief named to Obama transition team. Bill Ivey, NEA head under Bill Clinton, will handle arts and cultural issues in the transition.

January 13, 2009: Arts groups lobby Obama transition team for stimulus money. As part of a larger group, Americans for the Arts, the Literary Network and Theatre Communications Group propose to the Obama transition that more than $1 billion be funneled through the NEA…

Late January 2009: Obama transition official proposes linking NEA grantees to the White House…

February 17, 2009: President Barack Obama signs stimulus bill. Included in the bill are millions for NEA grants.

April 30, 2009 First major NEA grants of Obama administration announced. Groups that would later endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $700,000…

May 12, 2009: Rocco Landesman nominated to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

June 19, 2009: Obama advisor reveals plan to connect “administration objectives” and “cultural actors.” Obama Transition advisor advisor Bill Ivey is taped saying, “I wanted to see some real connection between administration objectives and the capacity of all the cultural actors in government. I made some progress. I got some agreement.”

July 7, 2009: Obama administration releases first NEA grants from stimulus package. Groups that would later endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $1.2 million…

Aug. 6, 2009:NEA invites arts groups to discuss “United We Serve” initiative. Invitation comes from the email account of Yosi Sergant, director of communications for the National endowment for the Arts. Later when The Washington Times asks Sergent about the email, he lies about his involvement in the conference call.

Aug. 7, 2009: Landesman confirmed as NEA head.

Aug. 10, 2009: NEA holds conference call asking grantees to get involved in politics. NEA Communications Director Sergant makes his wishes clear during the call: “This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand-new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. … So bear with us as we learn the language, so that we can speak to each other safely and we can really work together to move the needle and to get … stuff done. … I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment…. Then my ask would be to apply your artistic, creativity community’s utilities. Bring them to the table. … Take photos. Take video. Post it on your blogs. Get the word out. Like I said, this is a community that knows how to make a stink. Do it. Do it within your town. Do it nationally. Call on other producers, marketers, publicists, art — you know — artists, people from within our community and get them engaged.”

Aug. 12, 2009: 1st press release ‘Statement … in support of Comprehensive Health Care Reform.’ Two days after the conference call, arts groups endorse the Obama health plan. “We call on congress to pass: A health care reform bill that will create a public health option … There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt.” Sixteen of the 21 groups that signed the press release either directly received grants from the NEA or are affiliated with groups that received NEA grants within 150 days of issuing the endorsement.

Aug. 13, 2009: 2nd press release ‘Coalition of Arts Groups Issues Urgent Call to Congress for Healthcare Reform.’ The next day, the groups release a new version of the statement. “As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level … we call on Congress to pass a health reform bill,” the groups write. The statement is published on the Americans for the Arts web site.

This is significantly abbreviated; Kerry has put together quite a bit more detail. Go over and check it out. The Obama administration has done everything but say ‘millions in grants in exchange for support on health care.’ And they may have said that, too – just not publicly.

Congress is eager to investigate the CIA, do you suppose they can spend some time at another 3-letter agency?