Justice Department asked to investigate abuse of stimulus funds for lobbying

Last week, we learned that millions of dollars from President Obama’s “stimulus” bill were actually used by the government to lobby itself in favor of higher taxes.  Specifically, grants to state obesity prevention programs were raided for cash to lobby local governments in favor of sin taxes on love-handle products, such as sugar and soda.

Cause of Action, a non-profit government accountability watchdog group, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder and asked him to investigate the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant program in depth, because “it appears that many grantees used grant dollars to lobby state and local officials for the creation of new taxes and other legislation.” 

Contrary to dismissive statements made by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, this is against the law.  Sebelius asserted that it’s only illegal when federal grant money is used to lobby the federal government, but in fact, it is illegal for such funds “to be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner… [a] jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law ratification, policy, or appropriation.”

Cause of Action gave the Attorney General a few examples of clear violations to get him started: 

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health planned to use “stimulus” funds issued through the CPPW program to lobby for a two-cent-per-ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  The plan was described on documents bearing a CPPW logo.  It’s not clear whether this plan was implemented as described, but it shouldn’t take long for the Attorney General to find out.

Los Angeles County gave $795,000 of their stimulus loot to an outside lobbying firm, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which in turn sponsored a bill to fund childhood obesity prevention by taxing soda.  The American Lung Association of Idaho/Nevada, Inc., received $1.4 million from a grant to the Southern Nevada Health District, and happily praised this “exciting initiative” for allowing them to “take on advocacy and policy work,” including “strengthening the Nevada Clean Indoor Act and a tobacco tax increase.”

Twenty pages of supplementary material accompanied the letter, which hopefully will not end up in the same cobwebbed in-box that held all the Fast and Furious documents Attorney General Holder supposedly didn’t read.  Holder has testified before oversight committees that he’s a pariah in the Administration, and nobody will talk to him.  Perhaps he could win his way back into their good graces with a vigorous investigation of this stunning abuse of taxpayer money.  Americans get ripped off by various levels of government in lots of ways, but using our tax money to lobby for higher taxes – in clear defiance of the law – is among the most outrageous.

While he’s at it, Holder could investigate the puzzling mystery of how any of this obesity-prevention stuff had anything to do with the ostensible job-creation purposes of the gigantic Obama “stimulus” bill. Does anyone recall the President boasting that his bill would “create jobs” at lobbying firms?