Wednesday, 17 April 2013

State-funded lobbyists exposed

From the Washington Free Beacon (also reported in the Washington Examiner):

At least seven local health departments illegally used stimulus grant funds to lobby for greater taxes and restrictions on tobacco and unhealthy foods, according to a report released Tuesday by a nonprofit watchdog group.

Using taxpayers' money to lobby for bans and tax hikes? Sounds familiar.

This kind of thing is strictly forbidden in the USA under the Anti-Lobbying Act which bans the use of government money being used to influence "an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation."

Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein criticized the CDC for faulty oversight in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. He also said specific CPPW grantees may have “committed not just violations [of lobbying prohibitions], but fraud.”

Ha! Show no mercy to the tax-sponging criminals.

According to internal communications from South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) obtained by Cause of Action through public records requests, DHEC officials altered meeting minutes in order to hide the involvement of officials involved in grant fund disbursements after CDC expressed concerns about the use of grant funds for lobbying activities.

“The DHEC stated outright that the purpose of altering the minutes was to hide the fact that its CPPW program coordinator had directed illegal lobbying in the pursuit of smoke-free ordinances,” according to the Cause of Action report.

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

DHEC grant activities, like those of other state health agencies examined in the report, were explicitly geared toward specific legislative goals. Its application for CPPW funding said it would use taxpayer funds to “increase the support for and adoption of comprehensive smoke-free laws.”

Not the sharpest knives in the drawer, are they? If you're going to flout the law its probably best not to signal your intentions on the grant application form. This is the same arrogant hubris that led ASH (UK) to signal similar intentions on its own grant application form.

But while these American 'advocacy' groups were in breach of the law (allegedly), ASH merely breached Department of Health rules—rules which the DoH appears to have no intention of upholding.

“It’s not just a sign of misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Epstein said. “In fact, there’s some indication that the CDC encouraged this to occur.”

Previous investigations of the CPPW program have produced similar findings.

According to the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), CDC’s parent agency, federal guidelines for CPPW grant recipients “appear to authorize, or even encourage, grantees to use funds for impermissible lobbying.”

How like our own Department of Health, which is the only UK department to proudly acknowledge its network of state-funded astro-turfers.

The Department of Health, however, were uniquely unapologetic.

The Department supports and recognises the role of charities and voluntary organisations to undertake advocacy, lobbying and campaigning where they are seeking to improve the health and well-being outcomes for the population of England.

Interesting to note that this kind of behaviour can land you in jail in the USA, but will earn you a pat on the back in the UK. The truth is that most people in 'public health' have no faith in education and are only interested in legislation—usually for "greater taxes and restrictions". If the government grants them cash, it will likely be used to lobby and campaign somewhere down the line.

There are many examples of this happening in recent years, including Public Health England, Balance North-West, ASH, Alcohol Concern, Consensus Action on Salt and Health, Sustain, Tobacco Free Futures and Smokefree South-West.

Since the Department of Health is unwilling to put a stop to this misuse of public funds, perhaps it is time for our politicians to consider a British equivalent of the Anti-Lobbying Act?


Michael J. McFadden said...

I would say this counts as reasonable cause to rescind any tobacco or "fast-food" type taxes that have been imposed over the past two years AND to put a firm moratorium on enacting any new ones for the next one to three years until the damage has been repaired. Additionally, responsible officials and knowledgeable grant recipients who acted illegally in this regard to corrupt our government and attack our people should be jailed. And finally, consumers who were hit with such taxes, upon providing affidavits and/or evidence of financial damages caused by such, should have those damages refunded by the governments involved, including interest and penalty.

As a class action lawsuit, this might be of interest to some of the same lawyers that sued the tobacco industry itself for billions of dollars.


James Burr said...

While it's not against the law in the UK, isn't it against the Charity Commission guidelines? Charities aren't allowed to do this, are they? Stripping ASH of their charitable status would be a win in my eyes.

Snowdon said...

Charities are allowed to lobby (but lobbying should not be their core activity), but Section 64 grants cannot be used to lobby. The latter rule is not a law, however.

James Burr said...

I see. I know claims have been made about ASH lobbying before and they were rejected by the Charity Commission. It's hard to see how or why, considering they do nothing else. They don't conduct research, they don't run Quit Clinics....

Snowdon said...

"I know claims have been made about ASH lobbying before and they were rejected by the Charity Commission."

That's news to me. Details?

James Burr said...

Gah! As is always the way, after reading half a dozen blogs a day for years on end I can't remember where I saw it. And all a Google search turns up is the commenter, Kate, on this thread apparently making a complaint.

Also, Peter Thurgood mentions a complaint here.

I'm sure I remember someone making a complaint specifically about ASH lobbying and being astonished that it was rejected. Sadly, I can't remember where it was.... Sorry.