An Overview of the NEA Story

On August 10, 2009, I participated in a conference call, organized by the White House and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and hosted by a wide array of national media outlets, that was billed as a call to action to help with the President’s agenda. Almost 100 people participated, including representatives of the White House and NEA, the media, and artists. After consulting with a DC political veteran, I was informed that the participants may have been in serious violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees and agencies from participating in political activities.

On August 25, 2009, I published an op-ed critical of the effort by the White House to use the NEA to push public policy. The original article, entitled “The National Endowment for the Art of Persuasion?”, highlighted the mandated goal of the NEA and argued that by allowing the grant making agency to push potential grantees (artists & arts organizations) to create art that supported the President’s legislative efforts, a dangerous precedence was being set. After continued public statements by the NEA and the White House questioning my facts, I published the transcript of the conference call for public and media review. The result led to the resignation of the Communications Director of the NEA, an admission by the White House and the NEA of the appearance of inappropriate behavior, and new guidelines issued by the White House for all grant making organizations under their purview so that this would never happen again.

The following is a list of pertinent links to the story, media reactions, government reactions, and the outcome of the story.


The National Endowment for the Art of Persuasion?
By Patrick Courrielche
As published by the Wall Street Journal here.
Full Article here.



After ‘Inappropriate’ NEA Conference Call, White House Pushes New Guidelines
Jake Tapper, ABC News
Full Article here.

We will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns…
Bill Burton, White House Deputy Press Secretary
Full Statement here.

Agencies Instructed to Separate Politics From Grant Awards
Jeff Zeleny, New York Times
Full Article here.

‘The NEA was not created to encourage artists to address issues,’ [Courrielche] said, and he’s right.
Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
Full Article here.

White House to agencies: Don’t overstep on grants
Associated Press
Full Article here.

Official dishonesty from the National Endowment for the Arts
Washington Times
Full Article here.

The Obama administration sought to distance itself Tuesday from a simmering controversy swirling around a National Endowment for the Arts conference call that appeared to urge artists to endorse White House positions.
Andy Barr, Politico
Full Article here.

Nine Big Stories the Mainstream Media missed in 2009…Politicizing the NEA
Full Article here.

The [NEA] call also was the beginning of a small scandal that illuminates something gargantuan – The Obama administration’s incontinent lust to politicize everything.
George Will, Washington Post Op-Ed
Full Article here.

During my tenure…any action resembling this call would have triggered immediate dismissal.
Lynne Munson, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Full Statement here.

I respectfully request that you take the necessary steps to ensure that the NEA – and the American arts community it supports – remain independent from political manipulations by the White House.
Senator Cornyn in a letter to President Obama
Full Letter here.

It’s difficult to imagine that a Republican administration could … attempt to politicize an agency like the NEA without the mainstream media treating it as a major scandal.
James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal
Full Article here.

there is a blurring in [the government participant’s] rhetoric between the goals of the election campaign and the goals of the volunteer programs they are promoting.
Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times
Full Article here.

It’s not what the NEA was created for, it’s not supposed to be helping the president’s agenda.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Full Statement here.

We are writing to express our concern about recent news reports that the [NEA] used taxpayer dollars to engage in lobbying activities to promote the President’s health care legislation agenda…
Letter to NEA signed by Senator Enzi, Senator Gregg, Senator Alexander, Senator Burr, Senator Isakson, Senator McCain, Senator Hatch, Senator Murkowski, Senator Coburn, & Senator Roberts
Full Letter here.

Some of the language used by [Sergant] was unfortunately, not appropriate and did not reflect the position of the NEA.
Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Full Article here.

Yosi Sergant Resigns from NEA.
Washington Post
Full Article here.



Fox Business Network – 08/27/09

Fox News – 09/01/09

Dennis Miller Radio Show – 09/01/09

Fox News – 09/11/09

Fox News – 09/21/09

Lou Dobbs – 09/22/09

RedEye – 09/22/09

NPR’s All Things Considered – 09/23/09

CNN – 09/25/09



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