Right-wing media have attacked a contract between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a public relations firm to raise awareness of health and preventive care opportunities as a "propaganda piece" for the health care law that "violates many of the procurement laws." But PR campaigns like this are nothing new; in fact, the Bush administration spent $1.6 billion dollars over a 30-month span promoting its policies.
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HHS Launches PR Campaign To "Educate The Public" On Health And Preventive Care Opportunities
The Hill: PR Firm Won "Competitive Bidding Process" To "Educate The Public About How To Stay Healthy And Prevent Ilnesses." The Hill reported on May 21 that HHS signed a $20 million contract with a public relations firm to "educate the public about how to stay healthy and prevent illnesses" and explain "preventive benefits provided by the healthcare law." From The Hill:
The Health and Human Services Department has signed a $20 million contract with a public-relations firm to highlight part of the Affordable Care Act.
The new, multimedia ad campaign is designed to educate the public about how to stay healthy and prevent illnesses, an HHS official said.
The campaign was mandated by the Affordable Care Act and must describe the importance of prevention while also explaining preventive benefits provided by the healthcare law. The law makes many preventive services available without a co-pay or deductible, and provides new preventive benefits to Medicare patients.
The PR firm Porter Novelli won the contract after a competitive bidding process. The $20 million contract was first reported by PR Week. Porter Novelli did not immediately respond to a request for comment. [The Hill, 5/12/12]
Right-Wing Media Attack Preventive Health Campaign As "Propaganda" That "Violates ... Laws"
Sarah Palin: Health Care Law PR Campaign Is "A Propaganda Piece" That "Violates Many Of The Laws" Of "Government Contracts." On the May 22 edition of Fox News' On The Record, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin called the HHS campaign "one of the stupidest things I've heard coming out of Obama administration" and claimed it was a "propaganda piece" which "violates many of the procurement laws and other laws applicable to government contracts." From On The Record:
PALIN: This is one of the stupidest things I've heard coming out of the Obama administration. Not only is this, of course, pending in court, and I think it will be deemed unconstitutional, but this is a propaganda piece, which I think violates many of the procurement laws and other laws applicable to government contracts. This is propaganda. It's just promoting Obamacare.
And $20 million -- take it one step further and find out how did this PR firm even be awarded the $20 million contract? It's crony capitalism on steroids, Greta. The $20 million is going to a firm that employs and has as head honchos Obama surrogates. It's payback for their support of Obama.
And this comes on the heels of another $6 million HHS contract that went to another Obama crony, who happens to be the crony who Jeremiah Wright alleges was bribed with $150,000 to hush up until the election was over. Connect the dots. The $20 million contract is just part of the crony capitalism that corrupts Washington, D.C. [Fox News, On The Record, 5/22/12]
Stuart Varney: "You Could Say That's Using Taxpayer Money To Buy Some Votes." On the May 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed "you could say" that the campaign is "using taxpayer money to buy some votes." Later in the segment, co-host Brian Kilmeade noted that "as a country, we put $100 million into selling the prescription drug plan and President Bush was president at the time" but claimed the situation was different because Bush "was not running for re-election. He was explaining a plan that got passed." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/23/12]
Fox's Ainsley Earhardt: It's "Hard To Imagine This Is Even Legal." On the May 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Ainsley Earhardt introduced a segment on the PR campaign by saying, "It's time for 'What the Hill,' and once we tell you the story, you'll understand why." After the report, Earhardt reacted to the story by claiming that it's "hard to imagine this is even legal, but it is." [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 5/23/12]
Hot Air: "Obamacare Looks More And More Like A Slush Fund To Repay Obama Cronies." In a May 22 post on Hot Air, Ed Morrissey wrote that the campaign was to convince Americans "that they actually love government control of their health care" and that "ObamaCare looks more and more like a slush fund to repay Obama cronies." From Hot Air:
You know what ObamaCare really needs? No, not a Constitutional loophole, or a subservient Supreme Court. It needs a public-relations campaign to convince the majorty [sic] of Americans who want it repealed that they actually love government control of their health care. And guess what? We all get to pay for it
ObamaCare looks more and more like a slush fund to repay Obama cronies. No wonder Obama is so desperate to save it. [Hot Air, 5/22/12]
But This Is Nothing New: The Bush Admin. Spent More Than $1 Billion On PR Campaigns To Promote Its Policies
SF Chronicle: "Bush PR Costs Taxpayers $1.6 Billion" Over 30 Months. A February 14, 2006, San Francisco Chronicle article noted that a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that "[t]he Bush administration spent at least $1.6 billion on public relations and advertising campaigns over 30 months." From The San Francisco Chronicle:
The Bush administration spent at least $1.6 billion on public relations and advertising campaigns over 30 months, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
The report, requested by congressional Democrats, shows that government agencies are relying on outside consultants to help pitch their messages to the public, whether it's to bolster public support for the war in Iraq, deter buying prescription drugs from Canada or recruit for the armed forces.
"To communicate these messages to the general public or particular target audiences, departments contract with media-related vendors ... for a wide range of services, including communication plans, marketing design strategies, public relations campaigns, public service announcements and educational materials," according to the report.
The GAO report referenced by the San Francisco Chronicle included the following chart showing that the majority of the Bush administration's PR spending went to "advertising agencies" and "public relations firms." From the report:
Bush Administration Gave Media Outlets "Prepackaged News Stories" Without Acknowledging Its Role. According to a March 15, 2005, Washington Post article, the Bush administration regularly gave "TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role in producing them." From The Washington Post:
The Bush administration, rejecting an opinion from the Government Accountability Office, said last week that it is legal for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role in producing them.
That message, in memos sent Friday to federal agency heads and general counsels, contradicts a Feb. 17 memo from Comptroller General David M. Walker. Walker wrote that such stories -- designed to resemble independently reported broadcast news stories so that TV stations can run them without editing -- violate provisions in annual appropriations laws that ban covert propaganda. [The Washington Post, 3/15/05]
Bush Administration "Spent At Least $88 Million" On PR Campaigns In 2004 Alone. A January 26, 2005, USA Today article reported that an analysis of Bush administration spending found that, in the first term, Bush's administration doubled PR spending from President Clinton's second term. The article further pointed out that in 2004, the Bush administration spent $88 million "on contracts with public relations firms." From USA Today:
The Bush administration has more than doubled its spending on outside contracts with public relations firms during the past four years, according to an analysis of federal procurement data by congressional Democrats.
The administration spent at least $88 million in fiscal 2004 on contracts with major public relations firms, the analysis found, compared with $37 million in 2001, Bush's first year in office. In all, the administration spent $250 million on public relations contracts during its first term, compared with $128 million spent for President Clinton between 1997 and 2000. The analysis did not examine what the Clinton administration spent during its first term. [USA Today, 1/27/05]
Bush's HHS Spent $12.6M To Promote New Medicare Drug Benefits. HHS reportedly spent $12.6 million on a 2004 ad campaign explaining new Medicare prescription drug benefits. CBS News reported that critics questioned the objectivity of the ads, expressing concern about links between Bush's re-election campaign and one of the firms working on the ad campaign. [Media Matters, 8/2/10]