Money from pharmaceutical firms and health care companies is dirty, evil and corrupting — except when key members of Team Obama are pocketing it. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs derides grassroots opponents of socialized health care as industry-funded lackeys with questionable motives and conflicts of interest. But what about the corporate shills at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
Two weeks ago, the White House embraced $150 million in drug industry ads supporting Obamacare. This week, Bloomberg News reported that White House senior adviser and chief campaign strategist David Axelrod’s former public relations firm, AKPD Message and Media, has raked in some $24 million in ad contracts supporting Obamacare — along with another PR firm, GMMB, run by other Obama strategists.
The ads are funded by Big Pharma, the AARP, AMA and the powerhouse Service Employees International Union (whose Purple Shirts dumped $80 million in independent expenditures to get Obama and the Democratic majority elected). In trademark Axelrod style, the special interest coalition adopted faux grassroots names — first under the banner of "Healthy Economy Now" and more recently as "Americans for Stable Quality Care."
Because, well, "Corporate Shills for Hope and Change" doesn’t have quite the same ring of authenticity.
Axelrod was president and sole shareholder of AKPD from 1985 until last December, when he resigned to take his White House position. His son, Michael, works there. So does former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
Axelrod is prominently featured on AKPD’s website, from a founder’s quote on the front page ("CHANGE IS SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO FIGHT FOR") to the glamorous election night photos of Plouffe and Axelrod with the Obamas. AKPD still consults with Axelrod on "strategy and research" for the Democratic National Committee. The firm owes Axelrod $2 million, due in annual installments of $350,000, $650,000, $400,000 and $600,000.
That Axelrod and his old firm benefit mutually from their respective roles selling Obamacare should be gobsmackingly obvious. Axelrod pushes the White House plan on TV news shows. AKPD derives mega-income from ad contracts selling the White House-endorsed plan. The windfall allows AKPD to settle its debts with Axelrod, whose name, face and high-powered ties are critical to future wheel-greasing for AKPD — and future salary-earning for Axelrod’s son and close associates.
White House flack Gibbs called any suggestion that Axelrod benefits from the relationship "ridiculous." Retorted Gibbs: "David has left his firm to join public service." So when Republicans trade power and access, Team Obama calls that being "in cahoots" with business. But when noble servants like Axelrod do it, it’s called "public service."
What else is Axelrod keeping from full public view? AKPD is just one of his influence-peddling operations. Housed in the same office as AKPD is Axelrod’s secretive former PR shop, ASK Public Strategies. That firm also owes Axelrod money from a buy-out deal — five annual installments of $200,000 each. Axelrod has remained notoriously tight-lipped about ASK’s corporate business.
One client that came to light: utility company Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. Axelrod ran a fear-mongering campaign in Illinois for ComEd in support of a huge utility rate hike — and failed to disclose that his bogus grassroots ads (under the guise of public interest group "Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity") were actually funded by the utility. ComEd employees also pitched in nearly $182,000 in contributions to the Obama presidential campaign — more than any other company in the state, according to BusinessWeek.
What other corporate clients have hired ASK and may be benefiting from their ties to Axelrod right now? Axelrod has grown accustomed to subverting sunlight while claiming to serve "progressive" values. It’s time for Obama’s corporate-funded hypocrites to pay more than lip service to transparency. But as the sanctimonious Axelrod lectures on AKPD’s website: "Change is never easy."