Rep. Steve Chabot Criticized By Tea Party Activists For Seizing Cameras From Democrats At Town Halls
WASHINGTON -- After banning and confiscating cameras at his town hall events, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is taking heat from all sides -- including from Tea Party activists Eric Odom and Judson Phillips.
At a town hall meeting on Monday, a Chabot staffer directed a Cincinnati police officer to seize video cameras and cell phones from two Democratic activists who were attending the event.
Chabot spokesman Jamie Schwartz said the policy was meant "to protect the privacy of constituents," saying there were "multiple instances where constituents voiced their concern about being videotaped when asking a question that revealed private information."
Members of the media were also filming at Monday's event, but their cameras were not taken.
The progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change sent out a press release Wednesday about Chabot's event. "At Steve Chabot’s recent Cincinnati town hall, Chabot took an extraordinary step, banning constituents from filming the town hall and asking questions directly," the group wrote. "What didn’t he want people outside the event to see? Perhaps his defense of tax cuts for billionaires and Wall Street corporations."
The controversy has yielded a rare moment of agreement between progressives and Tea Party activists. Odom sharply criticized Chabot in an email to supporters on Thursday, writing, "Just when you think you've seen it all... a story breaks about a Republican Congressman (or his staff) instructing police to confiscate cameras from constituents in the audience of a townhall event! Yep, you read that right, at a public townhall event, in a public venue (high school gym), hosted by a public official and coordinated by public staffers, personal/private cameras and cell phones are now being forcefully removed to keep video footage from hitting YouTube."
He then directed readers to his blog post on the matter, in which he states, "This is a clear violation of rights and Congressman Chabot should be ashamed of himself. His staff should be rebuked, an apology should be given, and the officer should be punished."
Phillips also criticized Chabot Wednesday, writing in a blog post, "Chabot is a moron. First, you cannot confiscate the property of a private citizen without a warrant or some other due process. Second, and I will type this slowly just in case Chabot is reading this so he will understand this. PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT A CRIME."
Chabot has also been known to restrict the format of his town hall events, requiring participants to sign in when they enter and write out their questions beforehand. Staffers then choose which questions the congressman answers.
In response to the outcry, Schwartz said that at Chabot's next town hall meeting, scheduled for Monday, cameras will not be confiscated and individuals will be able to ask questions directly.
"We will be modifying our policy to allow individual citizens to bring cameras to our town hall events and will be instructing those in attendance that if they have a private question for the Congressman that he will be available to meet with them after the meeting concludes," he said.
WATCH the confrontation at Chabot's town hall (via ThinkProgress):