A sign in Rep. Jason Lewis’ Burnsville office says, “Office policy prohibits unauthorized use of cameras or recording devices.”
Lewis spokesperson Stephen Bradford says the policy is there because the congressional office staff has a “reasonable expectation of a right to privacy” and recording the staff would make them feel “intimidated.”
All Minnesota Republican congressional offices prevent recording of video in their offices. But Lewis’ is the only office saying it does so for staff safety.
We contacted the offices of all nine other member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to ask about their videotaping policy. Of the five that responded (four Democrats and one Republican), none prevent video recording because they want to protect the identity of the staff. Only Rep. Tom Emmer’s office said they have a strict ban on recording, but that was to protect constituents who sometimes bring sensitive issues to discuss and not to protect staff from identification or intimidation. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s office did not respond to our question this week, but in the past staffers have told visitors that recording is not allowed.
Democrats On Why Recording Is Allowed At Their Offices
Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL) has no blanket policy preventing office recording, despite being targeted by Republicans and Tea Party activists with similar office visits about seven years ago when the Affordable Care Act was being debated in congress. McCollum’s Communication Director Evan Hollander says the groups even staged a sit-in at McCollum’s local office. “We want things to be accessible to the public.” says Hollander. There is no sign in the office that says recordings are prohibited. However Hollander says they reserve the right to ask someone to leave if they were recording in a disruptive, harassing way.
He says the physical safety issues that Lewis raises “are nothing new.” It happened during the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Hollander says every congressional member has to set their own policies that strike a balance between the safety of staff and serving the public.
The press secretary for Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL), Samantha Bisogno, says the identities of their staff are not a secret, “they’re well known with their communities.” She says photos of the staff are often posted in Nolan’s newsletter and website, particularly when they speak on behalf of the congressman.
Nolan’s office doesn’t have a set policy on video recording. Bisogno says they ask that people check with them if they want to record. “We don’t kick them out if they record.”
Rep. Tim Walz (DFL) doesn’t have a restrictive video recording policy, according to Deputy Chief of Staff Sara Severs. She says, “if we had someone walk in and want to video, we may just ask them for a moment to make sure there were not papers on someone’s workspace that may contain constituents’ personal information from a case we were working on.”
The communication director for Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL), Brett Morrow, says Ellison’s office does not have a blanket policy against video recording like Lewis’.
We also emailed the offices of Rep. Collin Peterson (D), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) and Sen. Al Franken (D) about their congressional office video recording policies. They did not respond before we published. If they do, we’ll update our story here.