The founder of outdoor retailer Patagonia — which is suing over the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument — declined to appear at a Tuesday hearing about the smaller monuments replacing it.
“Patagonia is Lying / Hiding,” charged a Friday tweet from the House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, with red line striking out “Lying.“
In an earlier round on Twitter, the committee had accused the company of lying. An Obama administration official — in a tweet — then criticized using a government social media account to disparage a private business. And in response, a staff member for the committee’s Republican majority tweeted that the official is a “disgruntled partisan hack.”
To Dan Levin, a University of Utah associate professor of political science, the Twitter exchanges are “just another iteration of how ugly American politics have become, that nobody seems to be able to discuss the issues without allegations of bad faith.”
Levin isn’t worried about taxpayer money being wasted in the online feud, saying the issues its raises “are more about the principle.”
“When you have a House committee that has a fair amount of authority,” he asked, “is it appropriate for that committee to throw elbows on social media?”
He was surprised that the committee’s account was used to challenge Patagonia.
“What does it say that the chair of that committee, or the committee staff, are not concerned about the views of the minority members?” Levin said.
Adam Sarvana, communications director for the 18 Democrats on the committee (there are 25 Republicans), told The Salt Lake Tribune “the use of the public Twitter account is beneath the dignity of the House and the committee.”
Minority-party members were not consulted in advance “about this tweet or anything they do,” he said.
And that is how congressional committees tend to work. The majority controls the meeting agenda and the main social media accounts. The minority has its own staff and communications department.
The “Hiding” House Committee tweet was posted Jan. 5 and included a link to a letter from Bishop criticizing Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard for refusing to testify at the Tuesday hearing. Patagonia is suing over President Donald Trump’s order last month to reduce the original monument into two separate, renamed monuments that cover just 15 percent of the previously-protected lands.
Chouinard noted that Bishop and the rest of Utah’s Congressional delegation had already applauded Trump’s move to reduce Utah’s monuments, and said he suspected the hearing would be a sham.
“I find it disingenuous that after unethically using taxpayers’ resources to call us liars, you would ask me to testify in front of a committee for a matter already decided by the administration and applauded by the Utah delegation just a week ago,” Chouinard wrote in December.
Bishop on Friday accused Chouinard of “shielding himself from competing viewpoints,” adding: “In my 15 years of congressional service I have found most people jump at the opportunity to share their views before Congress — at least those who are confident their positions can survive scrutiny.”
Patagonia on Monday declined to comment further on Bishop’s letter or the committee’s tweet this weekend, referring inquiries to Chouinard’s letter.
Walter Shaub, who directed the Office of Government Ethics under President Barack Obama, maintains that House rules prohibit committees from using social media accounts to promote or disparage private businesses.
“When a federal government official publicly calls you a liar on an official social media account, without any due process whatsoever, the first thing you should do is call a lawyer,” he tweeted after the committee’s December tweet about Patagonia.
Shaub’s remarks sparked retorts from two staff members for the committee’s Republican majority, digital director Ben Goldey and deputy press secretary Katie Schoettler.
“You’re a disgruntled partisan hack from the Obama era with a false sense of authority you use to peddle a political agenda,” Goldey wrote to Shaub.
Goldey’s boss, committee communications director Parish Braden, defended the use of the Natural Resources account to lambaste Patagonia, noting that the committee has talked to the House ethics office and was advised that it hadn’t violated any rules.
“We dispute the assertion that we are attacking a private company,” he said. “Stating the simple truth should never be seen as an attack. Just because a corporation spends millions of dollars in political lobbying and advocacy does not give it amnesty from being called out on blatantly inaccurate and false statements.”
Braden said it’s not unusual for members of Congress to take on private companies, citing comments that the highest-ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources committee, Raul Grijalva of California, had made again British Petroleum and the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank.
He also pointed to remarks made by former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid against the Koch brothers.