While House and Senate health care negotiators meet behind closed doors to put together a final reconciled package (much to the dismay of taxpayers who had been promised that they’d be privy to the negotiations) another transparency scandal has come to light.
MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, who for months been touting the administration’s health care plan in the media, has been under contract for nearly $300,000 with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) while promoting government-supported policies. Although such a conflict of interest may not be outright illegal, it constitutes a serious problem, and the failure to disclose it is clearly unethical.
Taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for government propaganda campaigns, and Americans for Tax Reform and its Center for Fiscal Accountability have asked Jonathan Gruber to swiftly return the money he has been awarded under his contract with HHS to taxpayers.
From the letter to Gruber:
Your public defense of various provisions of both the Senate and House healthcare proposals while under contract with the Administration represents a serious conflict of interest.
Your engagement with the government to publicly tout a massive spending program is akin to public lobbying campaigns for which consulting firms are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of their (private-sector) clients. The fact that in your case the client was the Administration paying you hundreds of thousands of dollars makes your actions highly unethical. Taxpayers clearly deserve better than having their tax dollars spent on political propaganda.
You may have disclosed your involvement with the administration to reporters “when asked.” However, such important information should not just be provided upon request, but should have been volunteered, and you should apologize to the journalists you left in the dark.
But apparently even Gruber's assertion that he provided the information regarding his affiliation with the government “when asked” seems to only be partially true. While he may have disclosed the contract to the New England Journal of Medicine, on Saturday, January 9, The New York Times printed an editors’ note stating that Gruber committed a breach of contract:
Like other writers for the Op-Ed page, Professor Gruber signed a contract that obligated him to tell editors of such a relationship. Had editors been aware of Professor Gruber’s government ties, the Op-Ed page would have insisted on disclosure or not published the article.
Needless to say, taxpayers and the journalists Gruber sat down with alike have every reason to be outraged, and taxpayers deserve a refund.
In 2005, Armstrong Williams’s failure to disclose financial relations with the White House -- while championing education policies consistent with the Bush administration’s policies in the media -- created a firestorm that became front page news in the Washington Post and other media outlets. Curiously, this time around, the outcry on Capitol Hill and in the establishment press regarding Gruber’s ethical challenge has been tepid to non-existent so far.
Change you can believe in?
Grover Norquist is the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform.