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.