House GOP Threatens Subpoena Over ObamaCare PR Campaigns

By Matt Cover | October 25, 2012 | 11:01 AM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ( Starr)

( Ways and Means Committee leaders have threatened to subpoena Health and Human Services (HHS) officials over a controversial program to use taxpayer funds to wage a public relations campaign to promote the ObamaCare health insurance “reform” law.

In an Oct. 24 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-La.) demand that Sebelius produce the details of the HHS campaign or face a subpoena.

“We are writing to demand that you provide all responsive documents by October 31, 2012,” Camp and Boustany wrote Wednesday. “Should your Department not provide these documents by this date, the [Ways and Means] Committee will be forced to consider issuing a subpoena to compel you to do so.”

At issue is a $20 million public relations campaign HHS began in May. As reported at the time, HHS hired public relations firm Porter Novelli – lead by Democratic operative Kiki McLean – to conduct the campaign.

HHS has conducted other public outreach efforts, including an ad featuring television star Andy Griffith promoting aspects of ObamaCare.

Republicans have derided the efforts as propaganda, framing the issue as an effort by the Obama administration to use taxpayer funds to re-litigate a public opinion battle over ObamaCare that it had previously lost.

The watchdog website Judicial Watch also reported in August 2011 that it had uncovered an online advertising campaign HHS was conducting with the firm Ogilvy Group. The campaign used online tracking to target ads to users’ search preferences in an effort to put pro-ObamaCare information into users’ internet searches.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the campaign was an effort by the Obama administration to “manipulate public opinion” about ObamaCare.

“The Obama administration is using taxpayer dollars to manipulate public opinion regarding his socialist healthcare overhaul while also trying to get a leg up in the 2012 presidential campaign,” Fitton said in the August 2011 report.

Camp and Boustany have sent multiple letters to HHS asking it to produce the details of these campaigns but no information has been forthcoming. In their letter Thursday, the GOP congressmen accuse Sebelius of either being unable to keep track of the campaigns or of intentionally withholding the information until after the presidential election.

“The Department’s failure to provide a single responsive document to the Committee’s reasonable requests leaves only two possibilities: either the Department is unable to keep track of the work products it buys with taxpayer dollars or the Department is trying to delay any response until after this year’s election. Neither explanation is acceptable.”