Committee Chairs Expand Investigation Into Trump Administration’s “Boondoggle” PR Contracts to Tout Coronavirus Response Before Election
Washington, D.C. (Oct. 1, 2020)—Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, sent document requests to two companies, Atlas Research and DD&T Group, regarding their work on a coronavirus advertising campaign under contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Today’s letters follow the Chairs’ September 10 letters calling on HHS Secretary Alex Azar and another contractor, Fors Marsh Group, to suspend a $250 million contract to create advertisements to “defeat despair and inspire hope” prior to the November election.
“We are concerned that the Trump Administration appears to be misusing taxpayer dollars to fund a political propaganda campaign—disguised as a public health effort—just weeks before a presidential election, and that the Administration may be improperly steering federal contracts to individuals with financial ties to senior political appointees,” the Chairs wrote in today’s letters.
New revelations show that the Administration is preparing an advertising blitz featuring videos with celebrities and Administration officials offering a positive spin to the Administration’s disastrous response to the coronavirus crisis.
On September 25, 2020, Politico reported that the Administration entered into a contract with Atlas Research to create video advertisements for a campaign intended to start airing prior to Election Day. The campaign reportedly was spearheaded by HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo, who said this campaign was “demanded of me by the president of the United States. Personally.”
According to the report, HHS pressed Atlas Research to hire a subcontractor, DD&T, that is run by Mr. Caputo’s former business partner. DD&T reportedly has become “overwhelmed” by the project.
Although the contract was issued to Atlas Research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an FDA spokesman confirmed the contract is being overseen by HHS rather than FDA. According to the report, “three FDA officials involved in the agency’s response to coronavirus said they were previously unaware that Caputo’s team had used the FDA to help manage its new advertising campaign.”
One current HHS official warned: “This is a boondoggle. We’re in the middle of a pandemic … we could use that quarter of a billion dollars on buying PPE [personal protective equipment], not promoting PSAs with C-list celebrities.”