GAO reveals $1.6 billion spent on public relations by the Bush administration in 2003-2005

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A new 154-page Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says seven federal departments together spent US$1.6 billion on 343 contracts with public relations firms, advertising agencies, and media organizations, as well as individuals involved in such activities.

Congressional Democrats requested the report after several incidents surfaced in which journalists or commentators were paid to promote the Bush administrations programs, but did not disclose the financing, so called payola. In one case, Armstrong Williams was paid $186,000 for promotions of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. The administrations position was that an agencies' mission includes spreading information about federal programs.

At that time, the GAO had independent objections to the ready-to-air news stories the administration's provided to TV stations in order to promote it policies. The administration claimed the burden of disclosure falls to the TV stations.

Congress has now inserted a provision into an annual spending bill requiring federal agencies to include "a clear notification" within the text or audio of a prepackaged news story that it was prepared or paid for by the government.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said "Careful oversight of this spending is essential given the track record of the Bush administration, which has used taxpayer dollars to fund covert propaganda within the United States."

The seven agencies covered by the report are Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

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