Media Firm Does Ads for Bush

A media firm working for President Bush's re-election campaign has a share of the administration's publicly funded $12.6 million advertising effort touting the new Medicare law.

National Media Inc. of Alexandria, Va., is purchasing $9.5 million worth of television advertising for a 30-second commercial that the administration intends to educate older Americans about changes in Medicare (search) such as the new prescription drug benefit, executives involved in the advertising campaign said Wednesday.

Critics of the new law contended the firm's involvement is evidence that the administration is mounting a political rather than educational campaign for the new law.

"There are hundreds of media buyers out there and they get the contract," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (search), D-Ill.

Emanuel said campaign media buyers typically are paid 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of air time. But executives would not say how much the firm is being paid.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search), D-Mass., asked the congressional General Accounting Office to investigate whether it is legal to use government funds for the ad.

The conservative National Taxpayers Union called on Bush to pull the ad off the air, saying that it appeared to be "an election-year ploy rather than a genuine public service announcement."

The Medicare ad addresses some of the major criticisms of the law, including assertions that it will force beneficiaries out of traditional Medicare and into managed care plans and that savings will be paltry from drug discount cards and prescription drug insurance which start in 2006. Its theme is "Same Medicare. More Benefits."

Bill Pierce, a spokesman for Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, denied that the campaign is political. Pierce said the ad is running nationally, during game shows, soap operas and other programming popular with seniors.

"We're doing the right and responsible thing here to make sure Medicare beneficiaries have as much information about the new Medicare law as possible," Pierce said.

No separate purchases have been made in local television markets in states that are expected to be heavily contested in the election, he said.

Pierce said HHS chose a team led by Ketchum Communications and including National Media to manage the ad campaign, which also covers airing the ads on radio, in newspapers and on the Internet in English and Spanish. He said Ketchum and National Media have done ad work for Medicare for three years.

The advertising firm that produced the ad, Campbell Ewald of Warren, Mich., has its own ad-buying division, a company executive said. The Ketchum executive could not say why Campbell-Ewald did not also purchase the air time.

National Media partners include Robin Roberts, the media buyer for Bush's 2000 campaign, and Alex Castellanos, who is well-known for creating sharp attack ads including the Republican Party commercial about Democrat Al Gore in 2000 that subtly flashed the word "RATS" across the screen.