Politico

House Oversight expands probe of pandemic ad blitz


A House oversight panel is expanding its probe of the Trump administration’s $300 million ad campaign to boost confidence in its pandemic response, citing POLITICO reports in questioning if contracts are being steered to people with ties to a senior administration official.

The administration “appears to be misusing taxpayer dollars to fund a political propaganda campaign — disguised as a public health effort—just weeks before a presidential election,” House Oversight select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis Chair Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), wrote in letters to Atlas Research and video firm DD&T.

POLITICO first reported that Atlas Research had won a $15 million contract as part of the ad blitz intended to “defeat despair” about the coronavirus, and that the federal health department recommended that Atlas subcontract with DD&T to produce a series of public service announcements.

DD&T is led by Den Tolmor, the longtime business partner of HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, who conceived the campaign. Caputo is currently on medical leave and last month announced that he was seeking treatment for cancer.

“[T]he Administration may be improperly steering federal contracts to individuals with financial ties to senior political appointees,” Clyburn wrote in his letters, requesting documents by Oct. 15. The oversight subcommittee had previously opened a probe into a $250 million contract awarded as part of the ad campaign.

The House panel is seeking the contracts and related documents and all communications with Caputo, his personal scientific adviser Paul Alexander and Jeffrey Souder, who held multiple roles for Caputo’s private public relations firm.

Last month, senior House Oversight Democrats began probing the ad campaign, while calling for work to be halted while it’s under investigation.

An HHS spokesperson on Thursday said the contract was awarded “after a limited competition,” and that a technical evaluation panel of career federal officials reviewed the proposals. “Based on the review, the Technical Evaluation Panel recommended Atlas Research for the award,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

DD&T and Atlas Research did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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