Bush Medicare ad campaign is not ‘propaganda,’ GAO states

Sunday, March 14, 2004

March 15, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Bush Administration's campaign to promote the new Medicare law, which includes television ads, does not violate restrictions on use of federal money for "publicity or propaganda purposes," but it does misrepresent the legislation through "omissions and other weaknesses," according to a General Accounting Office assessment released last week, the New York Times reported.
The administration's campaign includes a 30-second television ad titled, "Same Medicare. More Benefits," that will air through March; print and radio ads; and mailed fliers to inform beneficiaries about reforms to Medicare and to address some criticisms of the law. HHS is paying for the campaign with part of the $1 billion in federal funds allocated to implement reforms to Medicare.
GAO launched its investigation at the request of some Democrats to determine whether the Bush administration developed the ad for "political purposes." Democrats called on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC to pull the ads until GAO completed its investigation.
Although the fliers credit President Bush and Congress for the legislation, the GAO determined that the campaign is "not so partisan as to be unlawful," but  "this is not to say that the content (of the ads and fliers) is totally free of political content,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
For instance, the opinion identifies problems in the campaign, including that it fails to point out that beneficiaries could be required to pay a $30 annual fee for Medicare drug discount cards, which will be available this summer. Further, the television ad "incorrectly suggest[s]" that the new law set a $35 monthly premium for prescription drug coverage, scheduled to begin in 2006, Anthony Gamboa, general counsel for GAO and author of the legal opinion, said, according to the New York Times.
Gamboa added that the $35 figure is only an "estimate," the New York Times reports.