GAO report: White House directly involved in Enroll America fundraising
posted at 12:01 pm on April 21, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
When Congress refused to appropriate more funds for ObamaCare enrollment after already committing a deluge of cash to that effort, now-outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius began working the phones to perform an end run around Capitol Hill. Sebelius began calling corporate CEOs to push them into donating millions of dollars to Enroll America, an outside group started by Anne Filipic, a former White House staffer. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigated, and discovered that Filipic wasn’t the only White House staffer involved in the fundraising campaign:
The White House allegedly was involved in seeking financial support for a pro-ObamaCare group, according to a new report issued in response to Republican concerns about the administration’s fundraising efforts.
Until now, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was the only official known to have solicited financial support for Enroll America, a nonprofit that promoted enrollment for the Affordable Care Act. But a Government Accountability Office report released Monday detailed not only the secretary’s involvement but that of a White House adviser.
According to the report, though HHS officials said they were “not aware” of any federal government officials outside the agency soliciting funds for Enroll America, a representative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation told GAO “about a discussion” in 2012 between one of their staffers and the “Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy.”
Though not named in the report, this would have been Jeanne Lambrew. The GAO said they were told the official nudged the foundation to give a “significant” contribution.
Here’s the relevant quote from their report, emphases mine:
HHS officials reported that they were not aware of any federal government personnel outside of HHS who solicited funds on behalf of Enroll America. Similarly, representatives from Enroll America told us that they were not aware of any other federal personnel who solicited funds on its behalf. The representative of RWJF, one of the two organizations that HHS contacted to solicit funds on behalf of Enroll America, told us about a discussion that occurred in 2012 between an RWJF staff member and the Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy. According to RWJF, this official estimated that Enroll America or other similar national enrollment organizations would likely need about $30 million to finance a national outreach effort. RWJF told us that the official also indicated a hope that RWJF would provide a significant financial contribution to support such efforts, but did not make a specific funding request on behalf of Enroll America or any other outside entity. While White House officials agreed that the Deputy Assistant to the President for Health Policy did not make a specific funding request on behalf of Enroll America or any other outside entity, they stated that this official did not offer RWJF a specific estimate of the level of financial support needed for national outreach efforts. They further stated that a reference to financial support like that suggested by RWJF was possible, but in connection with broad strategic discussions related to national outreach efforts that included discussions of both financial and nonfinancial support for such efforts. The RWJF representative also told us that the foundation’s CEO asked White House officials whether it would be appropriate to describe a $10 million dollar grant the foundation had awarded to Enroll America in a May 2013 meeting of philanthropic foundation executives sponsored by and held at the White House.7 The RWJF representative further told us that the White House did not object and that RWJF described the grant at the meeting.
The conclusion focuses more on Sebelius:
Our review of HHS’s written responses and documentation found that, since the enactment of PPACA, the Secretary of HHS contacted the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of five organizations to solicit support for one outside entity, Enroll America, involved in activities related to PPACA. Specifically, the Secretary requested financial support for Enroll America from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and H&R Block; and nonfinancial support, such as technical assistance, from Ascension Health, Johnson & Johnson, and Kaiser (which consists of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plans and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals).5 Our review of the documentation also found that the Secretary asked for guidance on soliciting support for outside entities prior to making these five contacts and obtained specific written guidance from HHS’s OGC prior to making four of them. Among other things, this guidance stated that HHS officials may encourage members of the public to support certain organizations assisting Americans to enroll in coverage under PPACA, pursuant to authority provided under sections 1703 and 1704 of the Public Health Service Act.6
The GAO probed five corporate contacts, but suggests that the scope was much wider. Sebelius certainly left that impression with its contacts:
HHS also reported that the Secretary interacts regularly with a broad range of stakeholders on PPACA-related issues and occasionally mentions the work of Enroll America. HHS documentation from April 2013 indicated that the Secretary’s standard talking points for meetings with stakeholders (e.g., hospitals, insurers, and drug companies) included discussing Enroll America’s efforts and noting that HHS was working closely with Enroll America.
It’s worth noting at this point that HHS regulates these markets in significant ways, especially after the passage of ObamaCare. This wasn’t just a case of working the phones for a charity. This was the Cabinet official with the most impact on these businesses extolling the efforts of a supposedly independent group launched by a close adviser to the President. It doesn’t take much ink to connect those dots, which is why insurers began complaining loudly enough about the pressure for Congress and the media to take notice.
It was a shakedown, pure and simple, to wring more money and assistance out of industry players in order to bypass Congress on funding operations within the executive branch. That should prompt Congress to demand more answers, and perhaps to cut off even more funding to HHS until they get them.