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Records Lawsuit Filed Against House Leadership Re: Use of Donor-Provided Consultants as Congressional Investigative Staff
Today, award-winning independent journalist Rob Schilling filed a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Clerk and Chief Administrator of the House of Representatives to exercise the public’s common law right of access to records. Specifically, Schilling’s suit seeks certain described emails, and any Skype and similar recordings and logs, pertaining to the use by two committee chairs of donor-provided consultants as professional staff to perform official business.
This follows the revelation that Congress also had joined in a practice, initiated by Democratic governors and attorneys general with the assistance of major donors after the election of Donald Trump as President, of using privately funded staff to perform official business to advance the “climate” agenda. Public records show budgets for tens of millions of dollars of in-kind gifts to governors in the form of non-employee climate “staff” and media consultants, and that progressive state attorneys general took in donor-hired and -provided prosecutors.
Now, it appears that the House Committee on Oversight & Reform is using donor-provided consultants as staff to guide what Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ro Khanna told activists to expect will be a “year-long” investigation of private parties, already expanded, for political speech that Rep. Khanna believes has frustrated attempts to legislate the agenda.
Scapegoating congressional failures is not a constitutionally permissible use of Congress’s investigative powers — with or without the financial assistance of activist donors. While the constitutionality of this “year-long” investigation is not yet at hand, Schilling was one of two parties filing two complaints with congressional ethics watchdogs over this work, the Inspector General of the House and the Office of Congressional Ethics.
As the complaints noted, the gray area exploited by some governors and AGs is not present here: House Rules and federal law prohibit private financing of the performance of official House business, in-kind or otherwise.
This new congressional investigation began with oil company executives in October but, according to past behavior and recent hints, seems likely to extend soon to others the “climate” industry views as having impeded its desires. A previous AGs’ campaign noted in today’s suit led to subpoenas to over 100 think tanks, scientists, and others also in the name of pursuing energy companies for purported climate-related sins. This blew up on the AGs when the targets challenged the obvious violation of private individuals’ First Amendment rights, thanks to the subpoena battle fought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The AG leading that charge retreated. However, many of the same AG offices involved in that scheme then brought on attorneys privately hired and placed in their offices by a group created by billionaire climate activist Michael Bloomberg, which offices then resumed the investigations. It has thus become clear that none of these abuses of power, in the name of enormous payouts and massive new governmental authority, were ever truly abandoned.
If anything, they have expanded. The complaint also notes the prospect that the Committee objective is to engineer criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice, in aid of a Biden-Harris campaign promise to engage DoJ on behalf of the climate industry in its lawsuits against private industry. Indeed, the Oversight Chairmen told activists they were eyeing perjury charges against witnesses…a week before any testimony was taken or any questions posed.
Further, however, prompting Schilling’s requests was Committee leadership also letting slip that it had brought in consultants to help guide the campaign, describing them in a way strongly indicating — thanks both to the New York Times and the group itself — use of a group funded by Arabella Advisors, the “mothership” behind a Democratic “Dark money juggernaut.”
The suit notes that this expansion of donor-provided climate “staff” comes after previous revelations of a $50 million per year budget request for off-books climate staff for progressive governors by 2020. Then came Bloomberg’s millions to staff up AGs to, e.g., push climate prosecutions that — with ever-changing rationales but a constant demand for hundreds of billions of dollars to be politically distributed — appear to be little more than shakedowns.
Now the spawn of both disgraces prowls the halls of Congress, and in this case there is no room to excuse the behavior which on its face violates 31 U.S. Code § 1342, House Rules and ethics requirements/prohibitions (House Rule XXIV and official House interpretations thereof).
Fortunately, the NYT launched the outside consultants’ effort, hiding it in plain sight with a promotional piece that, tellingly, made no inquiry into what skeptical voices — let alone House Rules or federal law — say about what the Timesnonetheless admits (if with understatement) is a “unique approach”. That same article, and the consultants’ website admissions, now tie the hands of the Members of Congress who brought in outside parties on the basis, indeed the confession, that the House did not grant them the level of professional staff the “climate” movement feels it should have to use the power of government to pursue political opponents.
Those opponents have apparently frustrated the “climate” movement beyond the point of caring about rules, a matter which House Inspector General has already declined to examine, about which the Congressional Office on Ethics which has a complaint, and the House Committee on Administration. The latter’s Ranking Minority Member Rodney Davis has already stirred to action out of his own frustration with what he views as coverup by the House leadership.
For now, Schilling’s common law right of access suit seeks to exercise the public’s right to know about this metastasizing of off-books private staffing to Congress, again (as was the case with the AGs) for adjudicative/quasi-judicial matters against private, political opponents.
Plaintiff Robert Schilling hosts The Schilling Show radio program broadcast on Newsradio 1070 and 98.9 FM WINA in Central Virginia, and the founder and editor of a news, analysis, and commentary web site, SchillingShow.com, whose reporting and investigative journalism has been awarded multiple times by the Associated Press and the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, including two “Superior Awards for Best Investigative Reporting” from the Associated Press.
GAO Board Member Matthew D. Hardin filed suit for Schilling, following requests for the records made in November and December 2021, which all of the named defendants ignored.
Democracy Dies in Dark-Moneyness: Soros Funding Behind Off-Books Congressional “Staff” to Investigate Political Opponents of Climate Agenda
Following up on this story, and related complaints filed with congressional ethics watchdog offices, courtesy of Capital Research Center’s intrepid Hayden Ludwig we now see that the money behind privately financed congressional investigative staff is coming from none other than George Soros’s Open Society ventures.
Specifically, it appears that $300,000 went from Soros’ c4 (Open Society Policy Institute) to 1630 Fund for Co-Equal Action, with the grant tag, “to support work to enhance congressional effectiveness and oversight”.
Another $282,2000 went to the Hill-support operation courtesy of “eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund Voice in 2019 to ‘provide information and advice that helps members of Congress advance policies and conduct effective oversight.’”
As we now know, thanks to those two ethics complaints and yesterday’s common public right of access lawsuit for records filed against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, et al., that means providing off-books congressional investigators to augment professional staff, improperly for any Member or office which partakes, to pursue private party, political opponents.
Which is a donor-dangle to Members to violate not only House Rules but federal law, should they bite. Which House Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Ro Khanna has confessed to doing. As all laid out in those complaints. One recipient of which, the House Inspector General, immediately waved off as not being his job. Even though it seems to fall pretty cleanly within his remit of investigating management of House resources.
Democracy dies in dark-moneyness, etc.
This operation — hiding in plain sight courtesy of a New York Times rollout piece so clumsily incurious that it never considered the propriety or even legality of what it nonetheless confesses is revolutionary, a “unique approach” now being tried in apparent response to the election of Donald Trump as President — is a pulse-check for the institution of journalism. But, even though it’s people we like, pushing idea we agree with? It represents a test of principle for the Republican congressional minority, “Dark Money” scold Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and any elected congressional Democrats who would like to demonstrate their rhetoric about good governance is remotely sincere.
Savvy readers will remember journalist Rob Schilling’s investigation into the weaponization of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. That Committee appeared, under its prior leadership, to be accepting “in kind” contributions from wealthy donors — boasted of by everyone from George Soros’s and Pierre Omidyar’s activist groups to the in-kind “staff” and Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (in seesaw fashion) — which coincided with the threat of subpoenas to the targets of these donors’ political ire.
Ugly precedent, that. The term Weaponization of the Federal Government comes to mind.
Schilling sought records from the House and its officers which would have shed light on the degree to which outside actors using outside funding had engineered and/or helped execute the agenda of a Congressional Committee. When he was denied access to those records, he filed suit in the US District Court against the House and its Speaker (at the time, Nancy Pelosi), seeking access under the Common Law Right of Access, which empowers citizens to review government records and activities. He later amended the Complaint to include the Committee.
“You have spent a year and a half and millions of taxpayers’ dollars conducting this investigation. It is imperative that all information collected be preserved not just for institutional prerogatives but for transparency to the American people… The American people have a right to know that the allegations you have made are supported by the facts.”
The District Court dismissed Schilling’s suit, ruling that Congress was absolutely immune from suits under the Common Law Right of Access despite decisions dating back to the 1970s which suggest otherwise. Schilling appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court. There, the (soon to be outgoing-) Speaker Pelosi quickly filed a Motion for Summary Affirmance, seeking to deny Mr. Schilling the chance to even brief his claims in the ordinary way that all appeals are handled.
As Schilling noted in his opposition, this seemed to be a rush effort to avoid the prospect of Pelosi’s successor possibly having another view on whether such behavior should be free from the disinfectant of sunlight. After all, Kevin McCarthy had promised increased transparency, and even offered more pointed and highly relevant comments. For example, he wrote in November 2022 to the January 6 Committee that:
While the sentiments were directed at another committee, they could not be more perfect for this occasion.
Days later, Speaker Pelosi’s term in office ended and Speaker Kevin McCarthy took office. Now, the D.C. Circuit has agreed that possibly the new Speaker has a different view of transparency in the legislative branch than did his predecessor in office. This week, when ordering that Kevin McCarthy be substituted as a Defendant in this case, the Court further ordered that he must file a Motion by February 24 setting forth his view of how the issue should be handled going forward.
This serves up to Speaker McCarthy another opportunity to fulfill his promises, right one of the last Congress’s most egregious violations of norms and abuses of position, and ensure transparency in the people’s House in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing. Government Accountability & Oversight looks forward to reading what Mr. McCarthy has to say when he files his brief next month.