Trump administration vetted political views of 274 celebrities for botched $265 million Covid ad marketing campaign, House lawmakers say

Performer Marc Anthony wished the Trump administration to agree — in writing — that it would not use his feedback for a public service marketing campaign on the coronavirus for use for President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Actor Dennis Quaid and singers CeCe Winans and Shulem Lemmer taped their PSAs earlier than withdrawing their consent to take part.

Rapper Ludacris, actress Betty White, Britney Spears, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, amongst others, all turned them down.

The Department of Health and Human Services paid a contractor to vet 274 celebrities for their views on all the things from homosexual marriage to abortion rights as half of a $265 million public service marketing campaign on the coronavirus, high House Democrats stated in a brand new letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

The ad marketing campaign was designed to advance Trump’s “partisan political agenda” forward of the Nov. three presidential election and should have violated federal contracting regulation, in keeping with the joint inquiry by three key House panels. Newly launched paperwork and emails between a contractor for HHS and company officers make clear the extent to which political interference formed the general public well being marketing campaign.

The inquiry discovered that Michael Caputo, a former Trump marketing campaign official who was appointed this summer season to make sure HHS’ coronavirus technique was consistent with the White House, sought to intervene immediately in communications between company contractors and workers. The work on the challenge continued even after HHS announced that Caputo was taking a 60-day go away of absence.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Reform; Rep. James Clyburn, who runs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis; and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who runs the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, launched some of the paperwork together with the letter on Thursday.

The “PSA Celebrity Tracker” utilized by HHS particulars the political views of greater than 200 celebrities thought-about for the marketing campaign, in keeping with an inner HHS doc dated Oct. 23 that was produced by contractor Atlas Research.

The doc lists the political leanings of varied artists, their arrest historical past, ingesting or drug issues, sexual misconduct or intercourse tapes in addition to which phase of the inhabitants they appealed to.

Singer Adam Levine is a “Liberal democrat who supported Obama and fights for gay rights,” however he appealed to the final inhabitants in addition to to “super spreaders.” Also widespread with “super spreaders,” singer Lady Gaga hasn’t “specifically claimed any political side,” though she vocally supported Hillary in 2016, in keeping with the record. Actor and singer Neil Patrick Harris was widespread among the many LGBTQ group in addition to the final populace. He additionally “Performed at the Republican National Convention in 2016,” the doc notes, “but appears to be a liberal Democrat.”

Of actor Danny Devito, the doc says pointedly: “Democrat, hates Republicans.” And actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood Liberal,” in keeping with the doc.

Another doc from Atlas, dated Sept. 29, consists of notes from a gathering with HHS officers the place they stated the PSA with comic George Lopez is “Not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the President.”

“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the House Democrats stated of their letter to Azar. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”

Politico first reported on the paperwork.

The ad marketing campaign is being applied via a minimum of two contracts, the committee stated: a $250 million contract awarded to communications agency Fors Marsh and a $15 million contract awarded to D.C.-based Atlas. Most of the paperwork obtained by the House panel had been produced by Atlas.

Representatives from Atlas didn’t instantly return CNBC’s request for remark.

Ben Garthwaite, CEO of Fors Marsh, stated by e mail that his agency has not been concerned within the vetting of celebrities and that “we have never met Mr. Caputo nor have we had contact with any Trump-appointed HHS officials.”

An HHS spokeswoman stated a “review is ongoing” of the marketing campaign.

“The plan has always been to only use materials reviewed by a department-wide team of experts including scientists from CDC who will ensure the latest scientific information is used to provide important public health, therapeutic and vaccine information,” the spokeswoman stated of the PR effort.

The lawmakers revealed emails that present Caputo sought to intervene in official communications between contractors and profession HHS workers, directing representatives of Atlas to hurry manufacturing of content material for the marketing campaign with celebrities like Ludacris and Trump-supporting actor Antonio Sabato.

“We must film them ASAP – we need content in the can now,” Caputo wrote to workers at Atlas on Sept. 13, the identical day Caputo revealed a video on his Facebook web page accusing CDC scientists of sedition.

In response to Caputo’s e mail, a contract officer from the Food and Drug Administration eliminated Caputo from the e-mail chain and congratulated the contractors on “doing an outstanding job navigating a complex environment.” The official, April Brubach, advised the contractors that solely approved personnel can “provide actionable direction.”

HHS inspired a minimum of one contractor to subcontract with DD&T, an organization run by Caputo’s long-time enterprise affiliate, Den Tolmor, in keeping with paperwork launched Thursday.

“This raises serious questions about whether there has been a violation of federal contracting law related to conflicts of interest,” the lawmakers wrote of their letter to Azar.

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