Congressman Peter Roskam's latest Telephone Town Hall was a campaign event and not official congressional business, his office said Wednesday.
Roskam held a one-hour Telephone Town Hall Tuesday night just one day after protesters, upset he won’t hold an in-person Town Hall, gathered outside his City Club speech. There, reporters chased him as he refused to answer their questions.
To participate in the Tele-Town Hall listeners had to log on to Roskam’s campaign website or campaign Facebook page and those who were able to call in had their questions screened ahead of time.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Executive Director Sarah Brune said holding a Tele-Town Hall through Roskam's campaign websites is no different than holding a physical Town Hall at his campaign office.
Brune told NBC 5 "this is a campaign event."
"If it’s meant be a Town Hall, then those from both sides of the aisle" should be encouraged to participate, she said.
Those who live in the 6th District complained on Twitter that there was little notice given for Tuesday’s Tele Town Hall.
"We don’t typically announce them in advance,” said Roskam’s spokesman David Pasch.
Pasch insists the congressman’s office calls “every landline in the district” several hours before the Tele Town Hall to notify them. Several constituents however told NBC 5 they did not receive that notice.
Pasch says the Tele Town Halls are conducted on the campaign websites because if “someone asked him a question like, ‘Why should I vote for you?’ or anything remotely related to campaign activity, he would not be able to answer it without violating ethics rules.”
There is no rule that congressmen must conduct Tele Town Halls only through their campaign websites, according to the Ethics Office, which states that it is a congressman's choice.
The House Ethics manual states "a single event cannot, for purposes of the House rules, be treated as both political and official” (p. 179 House Ethics Manual). The congressmen's activities “may be either 'official' or 'political' at the Member’s Option."
So, since Roskam has chosen to conduct his Tele Town Halls on his campaign website and campaign FB page, then he must follow these rules:
“If a Member designates an event as political by using campaign funds for it, no official resources may then be used. This means that congressional staff should not make arrangements..."
Pasch says there were more than 21,000 live participants on the call and more logged in on the livestream online. Pasch said “we do not screen questions before the call” and “he took as many questions as possible on a wide variety of topics.”
That’s contrary to those who told NBC 5 they waited, but were not called on after being asked what their question would be. Listeners also report that at one point Roskam laughed when one of the callers called Democrats “crazies” and “uncivilized.” Roskam’s spokesman did not respond when asked about that exchange.
Roskam has held only one in-person Town Hall since being elected 10 years ago. He has called them miserable and has compared his refusal to Sen. Dick Durbin, saying Durbin did the same in 2009 during the heat of the Obamacare debate. A spokesman for Sen. Durbin told NBC 5, while Durbin did not do traditional town halls then, he “traveled the state extensively holding listening sessions on health care in 2009 – when the goal was insuring more people. The House bill is so bad nobody can defend it.”
While Roskam did not take the caller last night who wanted to know his position on Russian interference, a new press release from the congressman Wednesday morning announced a resolution, the “Keeping Russia Out of European Elections Act.”
“Russia is attempting to undermine democracy and democratic institutions across the Western World,” the resolution states.
The press release adds, the congressman recently toured countries along Russia’s borders and “spoke out against Russian provocations in the Balkans.”
Roskam has made one change to his Tele Town Halls after NBC 5 asked questions. He has removed the prerequisite that callers receive campaign materials in order to participate online.