November 06,2009

Grassley says CRS legal opinion confirms HHS campaign may violate federal law

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said today that an opinion from the American Law Division at the Congressional Research Service says the online initiative of the Department of Health and Human Services called “State Your Support” may violate federal prohibitions on the use of official funds in at least three specific ways, despite the Secretary’s assertion that the campaign is “entirely legal and proper.”

“The campaign now on is not purely informational because it expressly has visitors ‘affirm’ their commitment to work with congressional leaders to enact legislation this year,” Grassley said. “It looks like the type of violation the law was written to prohibit.” He said the HHS website doesn’t simply urge public comment, it provides a pre-written letter to the President for people to sign their names to, and then collects postal and email addresses.

A copy of the November 2 legal opinion is posted at and, along with the November 4 response from the Secretary and Grassley’s October 20 letter of inquiry. An analysis from Grassley of the legal opinion and HHS response follows this news release, along with the text of the “State Your Support” message.

Past statements by White House officials make it clear that initiatives like “State Your Support” are part of a strategy. White House Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said on August 4, 2009, on CNN, “we intend to use a lot of the grassroots viral internet techniques from the campaign” for the President’s health care reform agenda. This week, the HHS Secretary said that the names and addresses collected by “State Your Support” will be used by the administration to invite people “to health reform-related events in their area.”

Four years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said official use of funds for propaganda constituted “underhanded tactics ... not worthy of our great democracy.” She spoke strongly at the time about tax dollars not being used to run a government propaganda machine. Grassley has conducted active, nonpartisan congressional oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services for many years.

The appropriations clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the Congress sole power of the purse, which includes prescribing how agencies may and may not use taxpayer dollars. Congress has made clear that agencies are not to use public funds to finance campaign tactics and grassroots propaganda. By law, official HHS funds cannot be used “for publicity or propaganda purposes ... designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress ... ,” according to and Section 503(a) of Division F and Section 717 of Division D of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act or for “printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner ... an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy ... ,” according to 18 U.S.C. § 1913.

Grassley said that what’s on the HHS website is particularly troubling given the recent effort by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prohibit health plans from notifying Medicare beneficiaries about the way benefits could change based on pending health-care legislation.