May 22, 2012

Rob Portman Calls On Secretary Sebelius To Release Details Of $20M PR Contract Promoting President Obama's Health Care Law

Follows Request for Details Into Obama Administration's Taxpayer Funded PR Campaigns

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), ranking member of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to request detailed information about a $20 million taxpayer-funded campaign to promote President Obama’s health care spending law.  This latest oversight request follows on the heels of a broader inquiry about public relations spending that Portman and McCaskill sent HHS in February – to which HHS is one of only three agencies that have not yet responded.

“There is no justification for wasting $20 million in taxpayer dollars on an advertising blitz for the President’s health care spending law,” Portman said.  “With Washington nearly $16 trillion dollars in debt, the American taxpayers should not be asked to fund ad campaigns defending a law that only deepens the spending hole we’re in.”

The details of this new $20-million stage of the government ad campaign are not public, but HHS’s 2010 televisions commercials starring Andy Griffith offer a sense of what the Administration may have planned. 

The Heritage Foundation provides additional background on the contract and the history of the Administration’s taxpayer-funded PR push to sell the President’s health care law. 


May 22, 2012

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

It has been reported that the Department of Health and Human Services recently finalized a $20 million contract with a public relations firm to launch a nationwide multimedia campaign to advertise the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  I write to respectfully request further information about this contract, including the request for proposal (RFP), a detailed statement of the expected work product, the planned content of taxpayer-funded advertisements, the target audiences, and the timetable for advertisements this year.

In addition, I am seeking HHS’s legal opinion concerning whether this public relations contract complies with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which bars certain public relations spending.  That law states in relevant part:  “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used ... for publicity or propaganda purposes.”[1]  Please provide an explanation of the extent to which this new multimedia campaign does or does not constitute “publicity or propaganda.” 

This request follows a related, broader inquiry to which HHS has not yet responded.  On February 28, as part of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight’s ongoing oversight efforts, Senator Claire McCaskill and I requested basic information about HHS contracts for the acquisition of public relations, publicity, advertising, or similar services from fiscal year 2008 through present. The Subcommittee asked for a response by March 16, 2012, and it has still received nothing from HHS.  The same request was addressed to ten other federal agencies, all but two of which have responded.

Thank you for your attention to this request. 


Rob Portman

Ranking Member    

Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight

[1] Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, div. F, tit. V, sec. 504 (P.L. 112-74).