DALLAS The Bush Administration spent $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars on 137 contracts with advertising agencies over the past two-and-a-half years, according to a Government Accountability Office report released by House Democrats today.
With spending on public relations and other media included, federal agencies spent $1.6 billion on what some Democrats called "spin."
The six largest recipients of ad and PR dollars were Leo Burnett USA, $536 million; Campbell-Ewald, $194 million; GSD&M, $179 million; JWT, $148 million; Frankel, $133 million; and Ketchum, $78 million. The agencies received more than $1.2 billion in media contracts, according to the report.
Ketchum was embroiled in a scandal last year when it was revealed that the Department of Education had paid commentator Armstrong Williams $250,000 to promote President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative. There was no suggestion of impropriety for most of the contracts, however. GSD&M, for example, has handled advertising for the U.S. Air Force for several years, an account it won through a traditional government review.
Trends in spending on PR and ad contracts were not documented, but a prior study by the minority staff of the Government Reform Committee found that spending on public relations contracts rose rapidly under the Bush administration. That report found that spending on contracts with public relations firms had increased to $88 million in 2004 from $39 million in 2000, an increase of 128 percent.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders asked for the study after reports surfaced that the administration had paid commentators to promote its programs and that promotional videos designed to resemble newscasts were distributed to TV stations that ran unedited.
The Department of Defense spent the most on media contracts, with pacts worth $1.1 billion, according to the study. The Department of Health and Human Services spent more than $300 million, the Department of Treasury spent $152 million, and the Department of Homeland Security spent $24 million during the period.
The PR and ad contracts included providing "expert advice and support in the development of several marriage-related research initiatives," an educational campaign regarding the "Medicare Modernization Act, and its coverage and benefits," and a contract regarding "message development that presents the Army's strategic perspective in the global war on terrorism," the study said.
A Food and Drug Administration contract had the objective of warning the public about the "consequences and potential dangers of buying prescription drugs from non-U.S. sources."
Within the Department of Defense, which had the largest budget for public relations and advertising contracts, the Air Force provided the most detailed list of its contracts, the report said.