Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has run afoul of the law again, urging companies whose future she controls to donate to do work her agency lacks the funds to do. Congress has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate.
Secretary Sebelius has been shaking down the industry she controls, raising funds for Enroll America, an alliance of community organizers and health sector businesses. This is not the first time Sebelius has run afoul of ethics laws, as she illegally campaigned for Democrats in 2012.
In her position, Sebelius has enormous power. She may have the authority over the futures of the companies involved, if President Obama doesn't appoint member to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or even if the IPAB doesn't submit certain plans to lower health care costs.
Whether the IPAB submits the proposals or Sebelius does, they have the force of law unless Congress votes with a supermajority against them.
According to a letter sent by two House committee chairmen,
The secretary’s actions show an apparent disregard for constitutional principles and may violate the Antideficiency Act, the prohibition against augmenting congressional appropriations, and executive branch ethics laws.
Five members of Congress signed the letter, including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Rep Jack Kingston, and Senators Alexander and Hatch of the Senate committees having oversight over how HHS spends money.
ThinkProgress stated that Alexander did the same thing in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush. Alexander cites differences, but the activity is wrong in either case. Pointing out that someone else did it, too, doesn't make it right to do now.
The members asked Secretary Sebelius for details, including
- A list of outside entities for which her department solicits funds
- A description of the coordination between HHS and EnrollAmerica and other groups
- Who in the government is soliciting
- Any government resources used
- A list of those contacted
- The specific requests made
- Any promises or offers made in return
- Any feedback or success reports from EnrollAmerica to HHS
- Who cleared this for ethics
- Any other fundraising done under the Public Health Services Act
- A list of funds transferred since March 23, 2010 for PPACA implementation, including from HHS, other federal departments, or outside entities like EnrollAmerica.
The last item there relates to a slush fund Sebelius has been using to fund Obamacare implementation, since it's far more expensive to destroy the American economy and health system than Obamacare thought. As Phil Kerpen put it,
And while Sebelius is dialing-for-dollars, she is also reallocating money from a slush fund created by the law toward public relations and political activity instead of using it to help people with preexisting conditions. About 40,000 people with preexisting conditions will go without any coverage this year because Sebelius chose to end enrollment in the federal Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan in order to instead fund TV advertising and grants to lobbying groups. So HHS is abusing taxpayer dollars as well as shaking down private citizens for coerced donations, all to maximize spending on their political push to build support for the unpopular law, instead of actually helping sick people.
The members also want a few answers from EnrollAmerica, including
- A list of staff or EnrollAmerica officials, HHS staff, and health sector companies who talked about fundraising
- The emails about it
- The process by which EnrollAmerica obtained tax-exempt status from the IRS
The Board of Directors for EnrollAmerica includes:
- Ron Pollack Executive Director, Families USA, thought to be funded by public sector unions, especially the SEIU, which mainstains a seat on the group's board.
- Vinny DeMarco President, Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, a group whose main purpose appears to be harassing the poor with "sin" taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
- Roger Schwartz Executive Branch Liaison, National Association of Community Health Centers. Community health centers received $11 billion for the first five years of Obamacare.
- Debra Barrett Vice President of Government Affairs, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA. Pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest winners under Obamacare.
- Tom Epstein Vice President, Public Affairs, Blue Shield of California.The nationwide BCBS Association may be not-for-profit, but they will reap billions in new non-profits under Obamacare.
- Anthony Barrueta Senior Vice President, Government Relations, Kaiser Permanente, an insurance company that stands to profit from Obamacare
- Sister Carol Keehan President and CEO, Catholic Health Association of the United States, which insisted during negotiations over PPACA that "Medicaid and Medicare Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payment reductions should only be triggered if anticipated reductions in the number of uninsured are achieved." In other words, it's about the money.
- Richard Umbdenstock President and CEO, American Hospital Association, the biggest beneficiary of Obamacare, which includes the effective ban on physician-owned hospitals, a competitor to the AHA.
This episode shows that government is just too big, and with too much power, to be wielded by anyone. No matter how ethical or capable a person is, the control of vast resources and the pressure to accomplish political goals is too great a temptation to resist. The most effective way to reduce the size of the federal government is immediate full repeal of Obamacare.
Follow @lheal on Twitter.
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