Representative Scott DesJarlais (Tn.-04) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for information on the use of federal funds administered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in lobbying and public advocacy efforts attacking American food and beverage products.
He believes that several states have used federal grants to run public affairs and lobbying campaigns to push for taxes on soda products, an act prohibited by the federal government. Additionally, states have been using CDC grant money to run misleading advertisements attacking American food and beverage products and the companies that make them.
Rep. DesJarlais has introduced legislation preventing the use of taxpayer dollars in advertising campaigns against any food or beverage deemed safe and lawfully marketed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
Rep. DesJarlais’ letter asks Secretary Sebelius for her agency’s position on the prohibition on the use of federal funds for lobbying and advocacy campaigns and a justification for the guidance provided to grantees which specifically encourages and authorizes them to use funds for advocacy and lobbying campaigns.
Below is the letter:
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
As a Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight, and Government Spending, one of my chief responsibilities is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used in an efficient, responsible and lawful manner.
Through my work on the committee it has come to the attention of my office that several states have been using taxpayer dollars to fund public relations campaigns attacking American food and beverage products. Specifically, I was informed that $230 million of stimulus grant money was spent running advertisements attacking soft drink companies. These were taxpayer dollars that were intended to stimulate the economy and create jobs, but were instead used to fund scare campaigns against perfectly legal products and the American jobs that they support.
In response to this abuse of taxpayer dollars, in January of this year I introduced H.R. 3848 the “Protecting Foods and Beverages from Government Attack Act of 2012.” This legislation would prohibit the use of federal money for advertising campaigns against any food or beverage deemed safe and lawfully marketed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This legislation has received bi-partisan co-sponsorship.
Unfortunately, it also appears the guidance being provided by the Department specifically encourages and authorizes strategies through its grant programs to influence policy changes by local and state governments, which would appear to be in direct contravention of long-standing federal law on this matter. In fact, Public Law 112-74, the most recent Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (also known as the Omnibus), also included this specific language:
Sec. 503. (a) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111-148 shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat the enactment of legislation before the Congress or any State or local legislature or legislative body, except in presentation to the Congress or any State or local legislature itself, or designed to support or defeat any proposed or pending regulation, administrative action, or order issued by the executive branch of any State or local government, except in presentation to the executive branch of any State or local government itself.
(b) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111-148 shall be used to pay the salary or expenses of any grant or contract recipient, or agent acting for such recipient, related to any activity designed to influence the enactment of legislation, appropriations, regulation, administrative action, or Executive order proposed or pending before the Congress or any State government, State legislature or local legislature or legislative body, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships or participation by an agency or officer of a State, local or tribal government in policymaking and administrative processes within the executive branch of that government.
(c) The prohibitions in subsections (a) and (b) shall include any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future Federal, State or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including but not limited to the advocacy or promotion of gun control. (emphasis added)
Not only were taxpayer funds being used to run misleading attack ads against legal products, in some instances they were being used to secure support for legislation. The Philadelphia Inquirer produced documents showing how Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter used money from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s “Prevention and Public Health Fund” to conduct an advertising campaign to lobby for a tax on soda products.
These actions clearly violate federal law prohibiting the use of federal funds in any attempts to change state and local policies.
I am also concerned over the recent announcement by the New York City Health Department that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will air their “Man Eating Sugar” video in cities across the country in the form of a television advertisement as part of a national obesity prevention media initiative. As you may know, The New York Times has exposed on multiple occasions the nefarious and deceptive nature of New York City’s taxpayer-funded advertisements. Recent exposés in the Times on this issue revealed that the department is operating on a “What can we get away with?” standard. It is my understanding that this could be funded through the $40 million National Prevention and Media Initiative under the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program.
As a physician I understand the importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle, but do not feel that it is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars to run attack ads on American products made by American workers or use those same funds to lobby local and state governments to institute punitive measures. These businesses, large and small, should not have to be concerned that their very own tax dollars are being used against them and the use of their products. Dietary choices should be personal decisions or they should be made by individuals in consultation with a doctor or dietician.
I would specifically request the Department provide me with:
1. a response as to its official position on the prohibition on the use of federal funds for lobbying and advocacy campaigns;
2. a justification for the guidance provided to grantees which specifically encourages and authorizes these advocacy and lobbying campaigns;
3. a comprehensive list of recipients of grant funding provided by your agency that engaged in lobbying activities;
4. a statement on how the agency intends to adhere to existing federal laws prohibiting lobbying activities;
5. verification that the national version of the New York City “Man Eating Sugar” television ad is being funded through the $40 million National Prevention and Media Initiative.
I appreciate your timely response to this request.
Member of Congress