Maria Gunnoe, an award-winning anti-coal activist in West Virginia, testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources last week about the Obama administration and its contentious relationship with the coal industry.
She had prepared a slideshow presentation that included a photograph by the photojournalist Katie Falkenberg depicting a nude young girl sitting in a bathtub filled with murky brown water. The photo was meant as a salient statement to legislators on the impact of coal mining on society's most vulnerable. "We are forced to bathe our children in polluted water," she said. "Or not bathe them."
Unfortunately, she never got to make that point, because:
Shortly before she testified, Gunnoe was approached by committee staffers at the direction of Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and told she had to remove the photo from her presentation.* She complied, but after testifying was escorted into an empty side room by Capitol Police Special Agent Randall Hayden and questioned for nearly an hour about the photo, which she had gotten the approval of the photographer, the child's parents, and Democratic committee members to use. Gunnoe said Hayden, whom she described as kind and professional, told her the committee believed the photo to be suggestive of child pornography, and that he would be following up on the possibility of her being involved in such illegal activity.
It seems crazy, of course, to think members of Congress would want to censor photos like this instead of focusing on their subject: that children are being poisoned by the energy policies they parrot.
But, as we always say at Public Campaign, it’s important to follow the money.
- Lamborn has received $191,212 from coal, oil and gas, and electric utility industry donors during his Congressional career, according to our analysis of data provided by the Sunlight Foundation.
- That’s $128,712 from oil and gas interests, $33,000 from coal mining, and $29,500 from electric utilities.
- Top donors include the National Mining Association ($16,000), Koch Industries ($12,500), ExxonMobil ($10,500), and Arch Coal ($8,000), the second largest coal producer in the U.S.
In fact, in the days before that hearing, Lamborn held two fundraisers—one at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. and one at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia.
The lobbyists in attendance, some who may represent these dirty energy donors, were likely allowed to speak freely without fear of censorship unlike Gunnoe.