Aides to President Obama and a key Senate Democrat met with corporate lobbyists in April to help launch a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to drum up support for health care reform, one that was largely financed by industry groups, Politico reported Friday.
The meeting reportedly resulted in the creation of two groups that have spent tens of millions of dollars on TV ads bolstering health reform efforts.
Politico reports that among those attending the April 15 meeting with lobbyists at the offices of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee were Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Jon Selib, the chief of staff to Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, which this week passed a 10-year, $829 billion health overhaul.
The campaign was part of a successful effort by Democrats to form an unlikely alliance with what traditionally have been opponents of health care reform. Both sides insist nothing unethical occurred.
Yet the alliance raises questions and eyebrows about an administration that savaged former President Bush for his ties to corporations and lobbyists like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the American Medical Association.
"There's no problem with sitting down at the table and talking," Bill Allison, a senior fellow at Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group seeking greater transparency and ethics in government, told Politico.
"But if they are signaling that they would really like these groups to support health care reform and trying to tell the groups how they'll benefit from the plan, they're laying a 'quid' on the table, and -- even if they don't discuss dollar amounts or advertising strategies -- they're suggesting what the 'quo' is, which is the groups' support for the plan."
While one group, Health Economy Now, no longer exists, another one -- Americans for Stable Quality Care -- is still sponsoring ads.
Obama stars in the most recent ad sponsored by Americans for Stable Quality Care, promoting the virtues of health reform while text at the bottom of the screen urges viewers to visit the Web sites of the White House and the Finance Committee.
"This isn't surprising," said Tina Gray, a spokeswoman for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Finance Committee.
"Once again, the White House is cutting a backroom deal when they should be doing business in 'the light of day,' as President Obama promised his Administration would," she said in a written statement to Foxnews.com.
"It is extremely troubling that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people and crafting a secret health care bill that raises premiums, increases taxes, and cuts Medicare," she added.