|'The extent of the Bush administration's propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing,' said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
Video news releases
Democrats were reacting to reports the administration had used video news releases that didn’t identify the government as the provider of the information, had paid reporters and columnists to support its programs and had used Medicare communications to tout its senior drug plan shortly before an election.
The GAO surveyed seven departments and reported that of the $1.62 billion, $1.4 billion was the result of 137 contracts with ad agencies, $197 million for 54 contracts with PR firms, $15 million for 131 contracts with media organizations and eight contracts totaling $100,000 for individual members of the media.
'Unprecedented and disturbing'
“The extent of the Bush administration's propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing," said U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. "The fact is that after all the spin, the American people are stuck with high prescription-drug prices, high gas prices and high college costs. This report raises serious questions about this administration's priorities for the country and I would hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree that changes need to be made to rein in the president's propaganda machine."
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, said the extent of the spending makes oversight critical. “Careful oversight of this spending is essential given the track record of the Bush administration, which has used taxpayer dollars to fund covert propaganda within the United States."
The White House did not immediately return a call for comment.
The GAO report released today is a broad survey of the reach of the federal government's advertising and marketing contracts from seven government departments for initiatives ranging from U.S. military recruitment to work for the Department of Homeland Security. Still, the report didn’t survey the whole government and, in fact, left off two major government advertising programs, that of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for its youth anti-drug media campaign and the U.S. Postal Service.
Six ad agencies
According to Democrats six advertising agencies were the biggest recipients of the spending: Leo Burnett USA, $536 millions (for the U.S. Army account); Campbell-Ewald $194 million (U.S. Navy); GSD&M, $179 million (U.S. Air Force); JWT, $148 million (the Atlanta office handles the U.S. Marines, and JWT handles the Federal Emergency Management Agency); Frankel & Co., $133 million (Centers for Disease Control); and Ketchum, $78 million (Health and Human Services Medicare account and the Office of Refugee Resettlement).
The biggest government spenders were: the Department of Defense ($1.1 billion); Health and Human Services ($300 million); Department of the Treasury ($152 million); and the Department of Homeland Security ($24 million).
The spending was for everything from military recruitment advertising to prizes for various promotions. Democrats pointed to the $10,212 the Air Force spent for items bearing the Coca-Cola logo including portable radios, victory t-shirts, hats and coolers, as well as more that $35,000 for promotional materials for a golf program.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the advertising wouldn’t affect Americans view of the administration.
"No amount of money will successfully sell the Bush Administration's failed policies, from the war in Iraq to its disastrous energy policy to its confusing Medicare prescription drug benefits," she said. "The American people know the Bush administration is on the wrong track and the White House PR machine won't change that fact."