The Capitol Hill premiere of a film about billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch sparked outrage from Republicans on Tuesday, but it wasn’t all that long ago that a movie co-produced by Citizens United was being screened in the Capitol Visitor Center.
In September 2009, Republicans hosted former Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and his wife, Callista, for an on-campus premiere of their documentary, “Rediscovering God in America II: Our Heritage.” A joint production of Gingrich Productions and Citizens United, the film explores the role of religion in early American history.
“There is no better backdrop for the film to be showcased than in the new Capitol Visitor Center, where I, along with other Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus have worked over the past year to correct historical inaccuracies throughout the center, particularly in regards to our nation’s religious heritage,” Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said in an invitation to the screening.
Under the leadership of then-House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Forbes and other conservatives fought to have the words “In God We Trust” etched into the marble walls of the Capitol Visitor Center after its 2008 opening to the public. The screening coincided with an engraving of the national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance.
On Dec. 3 2009, Boehner used the CVC space designated for the Republican Conference to host a 45-minute screening of a libertarian think tank’s film on the public school system. The San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute promoted the event on their website as the “Washington, D.C. Screening” and invited interested parties to reserve a seat.
Republicans alleged that Tuesday night’s screening — publicized as a premiere and news briefing — violated rules governing the use of the taxpayer-funded Capitol complex that prohibit using in promotional materials any reference to presentations in the Capitol and the prohibition of audio visual presentations to “premiere, preview, showcase or publicize a film.”
House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., warned that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could land herself in an ethics investigation for sponsoring an on-campus event for “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition.”
When asked about the 2009 screenings on Wednesday, Miller’s office declined to comment on whether those events would be in violation of the GOP interpretation of current rules.
“Rep. Miller was not responsible for CVC oversight and adherence to the rules in 2009 – if they even existed at that time,” Erin Sayago, spokeswoman for the majority on House Administration, said in an email. “As the current Chairman of House Administration, she is responsible for the current rules, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, notified the Minority Leader accordingly.”
Boehner’s office did not respond to inquiries about the screening.
Democrats maintain that the GOP rules do not apply to the 170,000 square feet of CVC building space reserved for members of the House and Senate.
“The rules referred to in the letter only apply to a handful of spaces shared between the House and Senate and are not relevant to what Speaker Boehner or Leader Pelosi do in the spaces they control within the House,” said Gregory Abbott, spokesman for Democratic Rep. Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, the committee’s ranking member. “They did not apply in 2009 and do not apply today.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, decried the Koch brothers movie event on the Senate floor Wednesday, calling it ”the demonstration of an apparent belief that the rules do not apply to the Democratic leadership.”
Asked about the 2009 CVC screenings, Roberts said “that was in error, too.”
“Anything political, anything partisan, should not be shown in the Capitol, but apparently both of them broke the rules,” Roberts said.
Spokespeople for Brave New Films, the production company behind the Koch brothers film, say director Robert Greenwald picked the location. The liberal filmmaker explained his choice to CQ Roll Call during Tuesday’s screening.
“The decision is, fundamentally, this is an issue that must be debated and resolved in the political universe and this is the center of all of that, Washington, D.C.” Greenwald said. “Having Reid and Pelosi and [Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.,] show up, I think all of that speaks to the nature of this issue and what dark money is doing to the elected officials, to the staffers, and really to our democracy in the most profound way.”
When asked about Republican criticism, Greenwald said he’d like there to be a debate about the issues in the film itself.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
Correction 5:40 p.m.
An earlier version of this post misidentified the film production company. It is Brave New Films.
Campus Reporter Bridget Bowman (@bridgetbhc) keeps her eye what's happening on and around the Hill. She covers local elections, the Capitol Hill community, House and Senate administration, legislative agencies and congressional oversight over the District of Columbia.
Leadership Reporter Hannah Hess (@ha_nah_nah) covers law enforcement and ethics investigations, acting as a watchdog of both chambers of Congress. Her beat includes Capitol Police and the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.