Smithsonian to Step Up Policy Enforcement in Renting Space to Outside Groups

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Smithsonian Institution restated its policies on renting its facilities to outside groups Tuesday, acknowledging that it had made an error in allowing the Federation for American Immigration Reform to hold an event Tuesday night at the National Postal Museum.

"It was a mistake," said Linda St. Thomas, the chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, which oversees the Postal Museum, a facility near Union Station dedicated to the history of the U.S. postal service and stamps.

"This was a violation of the special-events policy that says it is unacceptable to have groups which are partisan, political or religious in nature use the Smithsonian space," she said.

The Smithsonian did not cancel the event. FAIR, St. Thomas said, made a $5,000 donation to use the space from 7 to 9 p.m. "The Postal Museum did say yes, and it isn't fair to say, 'We have just found out you violated our standards' " and force the group to cancel, she said. Furthermore, "we did not cancel this event because FAIR did nothing wrong. It was our mistake in giving permission."

In the past, many Smithsonian facilities have played host to such events as presidential inauguration parties. "The inaugural every four years is its own thing. It doesn't matter who won the election," St. Thomas said.

FAIR, which supports, with few exceptions, a temporary moratorium on all immigration, is holding a two-day lobbying effort in Washington on the issue. Tuesday's events included a radiothon of almost 50 talk-show hosts.

A spokesman for FAIR said the group had not been informed of the Smithsonian's policies. "We are nonpartisan and nonpolitical. Anyone who gives our organization a thorough look, anyone -- a journalist, the Smithsonian, a concerned citizen -- can look at what we represent, and their conclusion would not be negative," said Dustin Carnevale, a communications assistant.

"If the Smithsonian deems us unworthy, we are disappointed. But we think that [comes from] what they have read, but not our reputation," Carnevale said. He said that FAIR, which says it has 250,000 members, had just issued a guide to the "tactics" of its critics, partially in response to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lists FAIR as a hate group. The Anti-Defamation League says on its Web site that FAIR spreads a "xenophobic message."

St. Thomas said FAIR's rental was approved because the special-events staff at the Postal Museum didn't conduct the proper reviews. "They didn't look at the nature of the group. They didn't do the research," she said, adding that in the future, all events at the Postal Museum will be reviewed by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian undersecretary for history, art and culture, "just as a double-check."

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