Harry Reid Vilifies Kochs, Celebrates Steyer at ‘Nonpartisan’ Event

Critics say screening of anti-Koch film in Capitol is ethically problematic

Harry Reid
May 21, 2014

A Tuesday event in the Capitol complex that vilified Republican political donors and celebrated Democratic ones was not partisan in nature, insisted top Democratic leaders who hosted the event in the face of numerous allegations of ethical breaches on their part.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) both said that those allegations underscored the point of the event: that "the Koch Brothers" dictate the agenda of the Republican Party.

The event showcased a new film by left-wing videomaker Robert Greenwald, who screened clips from Koch Brothers Exposed in the Capitol Visitors Center on Tuesday evening.

The event was initially billed as a "premiere," but promotions touting it as such were removed from the website of Greenwald’s organization, Brave New Films (BNF), after the chair of the House Administration Committee cited regulations explicitly prohibiting the use of Capitol facilities for film premieres.

Some posts on BNF’s Facebook page still describe it as a "premiere," while others call it a "congressional press briefing."

"Brave New Films appears to have created violations of the rules designed to avoid inappropriate use of taxpayer-funded facilities," wrote Rep. Candice Miller (R., Mich.) in a Tuesday letter to Pelosi.

Those rules prohibit any "audio visual presentations in the [Capitol Visitor Center]" that "premiere, preview, showcase, or publicize a film."

Despite the numerous promotional materials describing the event as a premiere, a Pelosi spokesman on Tuesday rejected that characterization, noting that only clips of the film would be shown.

However, BNF communications director Linsey Pecikonis told reporters at the outset of the event that the group was "using it as a promotional tool," despite prohibitions on Capitol Visitor Center events that "publicize a film."

That potential violation led to an ethics complaint on Wednesday, filed by the president of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) against Pelosi.

"She is knowingly violating House rules regarding political activity in the taxpayer funded U.S. Capitol," wrote TVC president Andrea Lafferty in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee.

All parties involved in the event denied that it was political. However, the event hyperbolically attacked libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch—they are "stomping on poor people," the film claimed—and Reid used the occasion to heap praise on Democrats’ high-dollar political donors.

"I'm very happy that there are people out there willing to spend some money to focus on things like" the Keystone XL pipeline, Reid said at the event. "We need people like Tom Steyer."

Reid has taken to the Senate floor on a nearly daily basis for weeks to vilify Charles and David Koch for donating too much money to groups that Reid dislikes. Miller suggested that his selective outrage over political donors could run afoul of prohibitions on the use of taxpayer-funded Capitol facilities for partisan activity.

"I have several serious concerns that this use of the facility may cross the line into partisan politics and be in violation of the rules of use of the Capitol Visitor Center facilities," Miller wrote.

"There is no question that there are countless venues in the Washington, D.C., area, not funded by the taxpayers, which could accommodate this event and remove any controversy," she added.

Nevertheless, the event went forward. Lafferty alleged a double standard.

"When I looked into using the Capitol Visitor Center for a Christian Inaugural event I was told it was too political," she wrote. "So how is it now ok for Pelosi and Reid to host this ‘political event’?"