… American people into favoring the administration's policies. Prompted by Judicial Watch's work in this arena, a key Senate subcommittee has joined our cause. Roll Call has the story:
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) launched a wide-ranging investigation into the Obama administration's public relations and advertising spending Tuesday, sending information requests to 11 federal agencies.
The top Members on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management sent letters obtained by Roll Call to agencies asking for an accounting of all "contracts for the acquisition of public relations, publicity, advertising, communications, or similar services" dating back to Oct. 1, 2008, four months before President Barack Obama was even sworn into office.
"Over the past three years, we've seen accounts of wasteful federal spending on PR contracts to defend the administration's unpopular policies," a Portman aide said. "This investigation will further probe this administration's use of taxpayer-funded spin."
(Incidentally, when questioned by the reporter as to why McCaskill, a Democrat, decided to help spearhead this investigation, a spokesman for the Missouri congresswoman said, "…good government is not a partisan thing." Amen to that.)
And what prompted Congress' sudden interest in this issue?
According to Roll Call, Republicans on the subcommittee said Judicial Watch's efforts to expose an Obamacare propaganda campaign funded by Obama's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) "piqued their interest." (And so it came as no surprise to see HHS on the list of target agencies.)
As you may recall, JW has already released a significant number of documents detailing this massive multi-media campaign designed to persuade the American people to "accept" Obamacare. In fact, as news of this congressional investigation emerged, Judicial Watch released brand new documents detailing the HHS Obamacare propaganda campaign.
JW got hold of the new records on January 9, 2012, as a partial response by HHS to a FOIA request we filed almost two years ago (June 9, 2010), looking for "any and all records from March 2010 to the present pertaining to the HHS brochure 'Medicare and the Health Care Law ‒ What It Means to You.'"
Here are a few highlights from our most recent find:
The records consist of internal communications detailing efforts by members of HHS to generate and agree on "talking points" that address anticipated criticism of Obamacare, including a statement by the HHS Chief Actuary [Richard Foster] "that total health expenditures will go up and not down." The documents further detail how to counter a statement by Speaker of the House John Boehner that Americans "don't want this law."
The HHS talking points indicate the Obama administration plans to "be creative" in how it gets Obamacare information to the public. The talking points further detail a massive taxpayer-funded multi-media campaign that will "reach people where they live, where they work, and in the languages they best understand."
Additional projects discussed by the talking points include a video to be produced with Secretary of Health & Human services Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare plus packets to be reviewed and approved by the White House for members of Congress, as well as a "donut hole brochure." While the total cost to taxpayers for the multi-media promotions campaign is not discussed in the pages provided, the documents acknowledge that the charge for sending a supplemental mailer to Medicare beneficiaries alone added up to more than $18 million.
The HHS talking points state that the insurance industry "is not going to change years of anti-consumer practices overnight. They further indicate an intent by the Obama administration to "hold the industry accountable," by making available "millions of dollars in grants" to states to create health insurance consumer assistance offices that will help consumers to enroll in a plan or file complaints against insurance companies. The mechanics of funding this program are not discussed.
Of course, these documents are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we've already uncovered. And they show a government agency out to get the private health insurance market.
JW previously obtained documents from the Obama HHS showing that the Obama White House helped coordinate a multimillion dollar taxpayer-funded campaign to use Internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo to drive web traffic to a government website promoting the Affordable Health Care Act. The expressed purpose of this campaign is to increase public support for the president's health care overhaul among key Obama campaign demographics, specifically Hispanics, blacks, and women.
In other documents uncovered by Judicial Watch, HHS describes in detail the key to success of the propaganda campaign in a "Statement of Work" accompanying the agency's Acquisition Plan: "Health and program-related messages are processed by the target audience according to a particular reality, which he or she experiences. Attitudes, feelings, values, needs, desires, behaviors and beliefs all play a part in the individual's decision to accept information and make a behavioral change." These documents suggest the total cost of the Obamacare propaganda campaign could reach as much as $200 million.
In November 2010, Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Obama HHS regarding a series of three Medicare television advertisements featuring actor Andy Griffith. According to FactCheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, the advertisements intentionally misinformed the American people.
This would appear to be exactly the kind of information of interest to Sens. Portman and McCaskill as they continue their bipartisan probe. You can be sure our investigators will be in touch directly with their offices. You can also be sure that we will continue our own investigations, independent of Congress, into the Obama administration's Big Brother propaganda campaigns.
JW Investigates California's "Train to Nowhere"
You've probably heard of the "Bridge to Nowhere," a proposed $223 million project that would have connected Alaska's Gravina Island to the "metropolis" of Ketchikan (pop. 8,000). Thankfully Congress defunded the project, which came via a crafty piece of earmarking by the "prince of pork," Rep. Don Young (R-AK).
Well if you thought that was colossal waste of tax dollars, wait until you hear about the "Train to Nowhere," a high-speed rail system currently planned for California that will cost somewhere between $45-117 billion. (That's billion with a "b.") And yes, federal tax dollars will once again be footing the bill to the tune of $3.3 billion.
As we have done with the Obama administration's questionable bailouts, Judicial Watch is now trying to get to truth behind how and why the Obama administration is so eager to fund yet another failing "green energy" initiative.
On February 29, 2012 we filed a lawsuit against the Obama Department of Transportation (DOT) to obtain records concerning the construction of the California High Speed Rail. We're specifically interested in the route alternatives currently under consideration, as California citizens are extremely concerned their property might be seized by the government through eminent domain to make way for this transportation budget-buster.
Here's what we're after pursuant to our FOIA request filed on January 4, 2012 with the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA"), a component of DOT:
All documents, communications and correspondence (including electronic email) transmitted between the Federal Railroad Administration and the California High Speed Rail Authority addressing or relating to the route alternatives under consideration for the proposed California High Speed Rail within Madera County and Merced County, California.
The FRA acknowledged receipt of our request by letter dated January 5, 2012 and was required by law to respond by February 3, 2012. However, as of the date of Judicial Watch's lawsuit, the FRA has neither provided documents nor given any indication as to why the documents sought by Judicial Watch should be withheld. The agency has also failed to indicate when a response is forthcoming.
Now in 2008, California voters did pass a referendum irresponsibly authorizing nearly $10 billion in high speed rail bonds to seed this project, at a time when construction costs were estimated to be much lower.
Ever on the look-out for failing green energy projects to support with federal tax dollars, the Obama administration announced that it would contribute $3.3 billion in federal "stimulus" and transportation funds to aid in the construction of the first 130-mile stretch of the rail. The administration had two conditions.
First, construction must begin by September 2012. And second, the first segment of the rail must be constructed in California's sparsely populated Central Valley, an area hit hard by the failing economy.
However, from the start, the project has been beset with delays and controversy due to the ballooning projected costs of constructing and operating the rail. On January 3, 2012, a Peer Review Group established by the 2008 California referendum authorizing the initial seed funding, issued a report criticizing the fiscal solvency of the project and refused to recommend authorizing the legislature to approve the appropriation of the bond proceeds:
"moving ahead . . . without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the State of California."
Officials now say construction on the project will not start until 2013. However, as reported by the Fresno Bee, this delay "isn't expected to endanger the funds."
California taxpayers, meanwhile, are rightly concerned that if the project commences with the assistance of the Obama administration's funding, but without assurances of future funding, the end result would be an incomplete "train to nowhere."
Affected communities and residents in California have challenged the controversial project in court, including whether the U.S. and California laws related to the project's funding are being violated.
In our view this California High Speed Rail "train to nowhere" is nothing more than another multi-billion stimulus boondoggle. The residents of the Central Valley could pay an especially high price for this wasteful project as the first segment will go right through their backyards and farmland.
Instead of stonewalling the release of records, the Obama administration needs to follow the FOIA law so taxpayers can follow the massive amounts of tax money to this risky enterprise. The California High Speed Rail project is set to make the Solyndra scandal seem inconsequential.
Andrew Breitbart, 1969-2012, R.I.P.
Unfortunately, I have to close this week with comment on some truly sorrowful news. Internet publisher and conservative Tea Party hero Andrew Breitbart passed away in the early morning hours on Thursday at the age of 43. According to a statement on his website Breitbart.com, Andrew died of natural causes.
Andrew was a fearless warrior for conservative values and hugely influential through his web empire at Breitbart.com, which is used as a primary source for thousands of news outlets, and through his many other websites. (I had the pleasure of working with him directly now and again and have always been grateful to Andrew and his team for publishing our Weekly Update pieces on his innovating and muckraking website www.BigGovernment.com.) Andrew was forceful, passionate and persuasive. And Judicial Watch sure appreciated his key role in exposing ACORN corruption through the savy release of undercover videos that documented the ACORN network's taxpayer-funded lawlessness
Here is the statement offered by Andrew's family and colleagues on Breitbart.com regarding his passing:
We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior.
Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love.
Andrew recently wrote a new conclusion to his book, Righteous Indignation:
I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and-famously-I enjoy making enemies.
Three years ago, I was mostly a behind-the-scenes guy who linked to stuff on a very popular website. I always wondered what it would be like to enter the public realm to fight for what I believe in. I've lost friends, perhaps dozens. But I've gained hundreds, thousands-who knows?-of allies. At the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror, and I sleep very well at night.
Andrew is at rest, yet the happy warrior lives on, in each of us.
Andrew is survived by his wife Susannah Bean Breitbart, 41, and four children.
As I say, I had the pleasure of working with Andrew from time to time, and I'm a regular contributor of Judicial Watch content to his innovative Big Government Internet site. Andrew was a Judicial Watch ally and booster who understood the nature of our national crisis resulting from the corruption in our nation's public institutions. His leadership drew talented individuals to his projects, and I'm confident his work will be ably carried on.
America lost a remarkable patriot this week. May he rest in peace.
DOJ Releases First Annual Environmental Progress Report — March 2, 2012 U.S. Detention Manual "Hospitality Guideline for Illegal Immigrants" — March 1, 2012
Al Qaeda Defense Atty. No. 3 At Obama DOJ– March 1, 2012
Medical Study Confirms Gardasil Dangers Exposed By Judicial Watch — February 29, 2012
Md. Gov. Stacks Court To Protect Same-Sex Marriage Law — February 28, 2012
Tom Fitton – President