A conservative Charlottesville radio talk show host has sued Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives alleging they denied him public records related to climate change hearings.
The lawsuit was filed recently on behalf of Rob Schilling, a local right-wing radio host, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In the suit, Schilling seeks a variety of documents related to a hearing held by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Reform titled “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil’s Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action.”
Named as defendants are Pelosi, U.S. House Clerk Cheryl L. Johnson and Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House Catherine Szpindor. All are sued in their official capacity.
Citing information from news reports, Schilling argues that “the committee’s investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s climate disinformation campaign” is not in furtherance of Congress’ duty.
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Instead, Schilling argues that the hearing and related efforts to subpoena figures from large oil companies – Big Oil – “effectively confesses to seeking a scapegoat for members of Congress who have failed to obtain popular support for legislative ambitions to fundamentally restructure society in the name of climate change.”
In recent years, Schilling has published on his website various articles and opinion/editorials that are critical of local and national efforts to address and educate about climate change.
“The public – including Mr. Schilling, in his role as an active citizen and journalist — has a great interest in seeing the record behind this weak rationalization to pursue political opponents and failure to even nominally ground a ‘year-long’ investigation into private parties in a ‘valid legislative purpose,’” the lawsuit reads.
In his lawsuit, Schilling argues that attempts to subpoena private entities is outside of Congress’ power and that the investigation was assisted by consultants “who appear to have been provided to the committee for this purpose by private donors.”
Recent and upcoming Congressional hearings are the latest in a “series of public-private collaborations to deploy judicial or quasi-judicial functions of government against political opponents of the climate agenda,” Schilling’s lawsuit claims. The suit claims the hearings are an effort to assist criminal probe or probes of “political opponents of the ‘climate’ policy agenda.”
The consultants were hired without following the process set forth in the House rules, which includes a required proposal, approval of such proposal, and posting for public inspection of agreements reflecting the consultants’ provision of official functions, Schilling argues.
Despite Schilling having requested records which would document the approval of consultants, he claims the defendants have refused or otherwise failed to provide any such record.
Additionally Schilling claims that the House Committee on Administration, which the House Rules charge with maintaining records of such approvals and making such records available to the public, told him on Jan. 20 that it had no such records.
“Schilling seeks information that might reveal malfeasance in the House of Representatives,” the lawsuit reads. “As a citizen Mr. Schilling is troubled by what he believes these records will reveal about private staffing of Congressional investigations, and as a journalist he is duty-bound to make the full record known to the American people.”
In November and December, Schilling requested from the defendants a variety of documents, including email communication between congressional staff members, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Rho Khanna and various other figures as well as video meeting recordings.
“As of the date of this complaint, none of the defendants have produced the requested records to plaintiff or even acknowledged his requests,” the lawsuit reads.
Schilling’s lawsuit argues that the defendants are in violation of their obligations under the common law right of access to public records.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims the communications are public records because they were created or received by an agency of the legislative branch for the purpose of recording official actions including hiring consultants.
The records should be available, the lawsuit argues, under the Common Law Right of Access, under the U.S. Constitution, and under the statutory provisions and House rules.
Schilling is requesting a declaration that the defendants’ “refusal to release the requested public records” is a violation of the common law right of access to public records. Additionally, Schilling requests the issuance of a mandamus or other mandatory injunction compelling defendants to “carry out their non-discretionary duty to make all of the requested records available.”
“Plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law,” the lawsuit reads. “Mandamus or an appropriate mandatory injunction is the appropriate remedy because the defendants are in possession of records to which [Schilling] is entitled as a citizen, a journalist, or both.”
The defendants have yet to respond to the lawsuit and no hearings are currently scheduled.