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‘Koch Brothers Exposed’ Screening Sparks Fight Over CVC Rules

By Hannah Hess for Roll Call

Republicans are warning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request to host the worldwide premiere of liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition,” is a violation of rules and could spark an ethics investigation.

The California Democrat asked for the room only after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s same request was rejected, documents suggest. Reid’s office denies that sequence of events.

Last week, Greenwald’s Brave New Films began circulating invites for a screening in a plum spot labeled HVC 215, the Capitol Visitor Center meeting room reserved for the House Democratic Caucus. The event is scheduled Tuesday night from 6:15 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Republicans objected that such a screening would violate rules governing the use of the taxpayer-funded Capitol complex, and warn Pelosi could land herself in an ethics investigation for sponsoring an on-campus screening of clips from the movie about the political activity of billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but that’s a potential,” House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, the so-called mayor of Capitol Hill, told CQ Roll Call a few hours before doors opened on the Tuesday evening show.

Private entities and private event-planning companies are prohibited from renting space in the CVC, so any event held in the 580,00-square-foot space — which includes the 170,000 square feet of building space reserved for lawmakers from either chamber — must be sponsored by a member of Congress. The House Administration Committee and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration share jurisdiction over the CVC, and approve requests through a bicameral process.

According to documents obtained by CQ Roll Call, Reid originally requested use of the CVC auditorium to host a 15- to 30-person screening of excerpts from “Koch Brothers Exposed,” along with a discussion on money in politics.

The Nevada Democrat’s proposed screening was rejected on April 30 on the basis it did not fit the definition of “official congressional business,” according to an email obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Republicans claim Pelosi resurrected plans for the screening after Reid’s request was rejected. GOP sources maintain that, even with the new location, the film debut is still a violation of the rules.

According to an email provided by Reid’s office, the Senate leader actually canceled his request because he learned Pelosi was interested in co-hosting the event. A Reid spokesman says the office never received a rejection.

The rejection email included committees of jurisdiction and did not clearly show any communication with Reid’s office.

Miller wrote Pelosi a letter when she saw invites to the premiere, raising “several serious concerns” that using the facility to host the screening “may cross the line into partisan politics and be in violation of the rules of use of [CVC] facilities.” Among Miller’s concerns were rules 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.”

When asked about the letter, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told CQ Roll Call the room is not governed by the rules Miller cites.

“Regardless, this film was created by a 501c3 nonprofit organization, and this event is neither a fundraiser nor a screening, but a press conference in which clips from the film will be shown,” he said in an email. “The fact the Chairwoman Miller wrote this letter demonstrates the reach of the Koch Brothers into our government and why there is a need for the public to be more fully informed of their activities, which is the goal of this film.”

Though the letter obtained by CQ Roll Call is written on House Administration stationary bearing the names of all its members, Democrats on the committee also are rejecting the implication that the room falls under CVC rules.

“The House expansion space is defined by law in the Capitol Visitors Center Act of 2008 as part of the House, not part of the Capitol Visitors Center,” said Gregory Abbott, spokesman for Democratic Rep. Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, the committee’s ranking member. “As such, the rules for CVC space simply do not apply. Chairman Miller acknowledges this in her own letter.”

In the past, Democrats have hosted events for the minimum wage bus tour and Affordable Care Act enrollment in the same quarters.

This kerfuffle follows a meeting room spat a few weeks ago where Democrats moved a planned event to showcase the plight of people living without an unemployment insurance benefits extension. Republicans said the dust-up was overdramatic.

“It speaks volumes about the Kochs’ influence when Republican members of Congress try to shut down free speech in the name of protecting the Kochs,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in an email.

Reid himself was even more blunt than his spokesman, saying of Miller’s objections: “That shows how their tentacles are in every part of the Republican congressional establishment,” Reid said. Then the majority leader weighed in on the ethical question as well: “They acknowledge that it doesn’t have any legs, legally. There’s nothing that’s ethically wrong with our going and talking about some documentary. The man that has produced this documentary has produced seven other documentaries, about the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, about the Koch brothers.

“That’s what the First Amendment used to be about until it became the Supreme Court’s — you have more free speech the more money you have,” Reid said.

Miller, though, summed it up thusly: “The rules are the rules.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.