PRWeek magazine announced this week that the federal Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, had signed a $20 million contract with the public relations firm Porter Novelli to “educate” the public about Obamacare. This means that if you pay taxes, President Obama is using your own money to propagandize you and your family, in an election year, in favor of the unpopular health care law that probably cost his party its majority control of Congress in the last election.
Liberals are defending this. The Center for American Progress argues that more than $262 million has been spent “campaigning against Obamacare so far. Educating people about the benefits of Obamacare, such as that preventive services are available at no additional cost, and counteracting the misinformation campaign will be vital to the law’s success.”
But there is a very clear difference between this PR contract, which is paid for with your money, and the millions of their own money that Obamacare’s opponents invested to educate Americans about the law.
This isn’t the first time Obama has spent your tax dollars promoting his political agenda. His $831 billion stimulus package contained more than $33.5 million for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, including $17.9 million for a “publicity center” promoting HHS products. During the 2010 election season, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services spent $3.1 million on television ads in which Andy Griffith reassured seniors that Obamacare “guaranteed Medicare benefits will remain the same.” At the time, FactCheck.org noted that “the words in this ad ring hollow,” and that it contained “weasel words” to “mislead” seniors.
Under a completely separate Ogilvy contract, HHS New Media Communications Director Julia Eisman coordinated with the PR firm to drive Internet traffic to an HHS website promoting Obamacare just in time for election day. “Given the high performance, we’re wondering if we should we consider reallocating resources from the lesser performing words and put more $$ to ‘Obamacare’ — at least for the next 7 days,” Eisman wrote in an email to an Ogilvy executive, exactly seven days before the November 2012 election.
The Eisman email may violate the Hatch Act, the 1939 law that prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government from engaging in partisan political activity. But even where there are no legal questions, government propaganda is, at best, a waste of money. A March 2012 Congressional Research Service Report found government agencies spent more than $900 million on contracts for advertising services in 2010 alone. Aside from the Pentagon, which uses advertising to recruit, the biggest spenders are HHS and the Treasury Department. Is any of this really necessary?
Americans still hate Obamacare. According to a recent survey by Rasmussen Reports, 56 percent of likely voters want it repealed. It is bad enough that American citizens have to pay for the management and execution of federal programs they never wanted. They shouldn’t have to pay for propaganda promoting these programs as well.