House limits camera access for Democratic political trackers

Posted by John Frank on June 3, 2014 

UPDATED: The extra attention focused on House Speaker Thom Tillis this session as he makes his U.S. Senate bid is not just from the media.

American Bridge, a Democratic opposition research group, is a near-daily presence at the statehouse, filming House floor sessions and some committee meetings. The organization is a constant critic of the Republican speaker, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in November.

The “tracker” – as they are known – is the new norm in the digital age of politics, where a mistake caught on camera can embarrass a candidate. (A tracker for the Republican-outfit America Rising also has filmed committee meetings and followed NAACP President Rev. William Barber at the legislature.)

But the House isn’t making it easy on the Democratic group – prohibiting them from filming at times in the center gallery above the chamber and imposing tougher restrictions.

Under new informal rules from the sergeant-at-arms and Tillis’ office, the trackers are not allowed to set up tripods and use the center gallery area, which they say is reserved for credentialed media. No such restrictions exist in the Senate.

The trackers have used the area in the past, but Tillis spokeswoman Anna Roberts said increased press attention this session means more space is needed for media cameras. More news outlets are paying attention this session, based on credential requests, but the space is often empty. “It’s a spatial, comfortable sort of thing,” said Clyde Cook, the House sergeant-at-arms. “We don’t want to stop them.”

The trackers are allowed to sit in the corners of the gallery and film from their laps, the sergeant-at-arms told them Monday, but the views are obstructed by large chandeliers.

The new restrictions “came out of the speaker’s office,” according to video of the interactions that American Bridge posted online.

The speaker's office later sought to clarify the policy in a meeting Tuesday with the sergeant-at-arms staff. While the center section of the gallery remains reserved for credentialed press, Tillis' aides made clear that anyone who wishes may film from elsewhere in the gallery, and space allowing, may use tripods.

Roberts dismissed suggestions that the Senate race is at play. But Brad Woodhouse, the president of American Bridge, said Tillis is “going to great lengths to block or obstruct the videotaping of what’s happening on the floor under his speakership.”

“Thom Tillis’s agenda as speaker has harmed workers, seniors and middle class families and now that he is running for the Senate he wants to do everything he can to shield the public from his record,” Woodhouse added.

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