Report: Administration PR for Health Care Bill Was ‘Propaganda’

Published May 31, 2016

A new report from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) blasts the Obama administration, charging it has engaged in an “unprecedented” propaganda effort to sell the president’s health care policies.

“Under one-party rule in 2009, the White House used the machinery of the Obama campaign to tout the President’s agenda through inappropriate and sometimes unlawful public relations and propaganda initiatives,” the report says.

Ethics Violations Cited

Conservative critics have railed against the Obama White House for several incidents, alleging the administration was improperly using taxpayer dollars for partisan gain. Issa’s report cites as evidence for his charges 11 separate episodes in which the report says the administration abused taxpayer resources and, in some cases, violated federal law.

The incidents include well-known flashpoints such as expensive road signs touting economic progress under the economic stimulus law and an attempt in the early months of the administration to coordinate taxpayer-funded art to boost the president’s legislative priorities. The report also cites several lesser-known episodes such as allegedly shady online practices of a Justice Department spokeswoman and a government-funded online web form allowing users to urge members of Congress to pass health care legislation.

Griffith Ad at Taxpayers’ Expense

One of the Obama administration’s more expensive “propaganda” efforts, according to the report, was a television commercial boosting the then-newly passed health care law. The advertisement features 84-year-old television star Andy Griffith and was designed to sell senior citizens, whom polls show are particularly opposed to ObamaCare, on the “good things [that] are coming” in the law.

“Free check ups, lower prescription costs, and better ways to protect us and Medicare from fraud. . . . I think you’re gonna like it,” Griffith said in the ad.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal agency responsible for implementing the health care law, paid $700,000 for the commercial, the Issa report says.

Faced with controversy regarding the advertisement over the summer, an administration spokeswoman said it was necessary to ensure “seniors have the information they need.” The administration ended up yanking the ad, however.

Issa’s report charges the advertisement was “purely partisan in nature” and thus violates federal law.

Anonymous Blogging, Commenting

Another episode cataloged by the Issa report involves a Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Russo, who reportedly authored comments pseudonymously on blogs, online forums, and other online media. The Issa report notes the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly ruled that failure to disclose the hand of the government behind public communications constitutes “covert propaganda” and is unlawful.

Faced with the charges in October 2009, the Justice Department denied it had a “blog squad” and said its policy is not to comment on blogs or other online media anonymously, according to the Washington Times.

$300K for Expert Mouthpiece

Issa’s report also discusses Jonathan Gruber, a health care expert who was revealed to be making hundreds of thousands of dollars from government contracts while writing editorials in favor of Obama’s health care law and being cited by journalists for his health care expertise.

Gruber was paid nearly $300,000 by HHS for “technical assistance” as a consultant on estimating the economic impact of the health care law. Gruber did not disclose his government contracts when discussing the health care law with numerous journalists. Articles that relied on Gruber’s testimony and were favorable to the health care law were promoted vigorously by the President himself.

After his contracts were revealed, Gruber said he “never intentionally withheld [his] two HHS contracts from Congress or the media.”

The Issa report compares Gruber’s $300,000 in government contracts to an instance in which the George W. Bush administration Department of Education paid columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to advocate the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. When it was revealed Williams was receiving taxpayer funds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried the “underhanded” tactics, saying it was “not worthy of our great democracy,” the Issa report notes.

Jonathan Strong ([email protected]) is a reporter for The Daily Caller, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Reprinted with permission.


Internet Resources

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Public Relations and Propaganda Initiatives