A followup to my Sept. 23 post on the Department of Health and Human Services television spots with Andy Griffith touting Medicare and health reform:
Under federal law (Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-117, § 720, 123 Stat. 3034, 3159, 3210), federal agencies may not use funds for publicity or propaganda. In response to a query from Republican House members Darrell Issa and Dave Camp, the U.S. Government Accountability Office rendered a legal opinion on October 19 concluding that:
“The television advertisements did not violate the prohibition because they clearly identified their source, were not self-aggrandizing, and were not a purely partisan activity. We note, however, that two of the advertisements overstate one of PPACA’s benefits when they state that beneficiaries will “have [their] guaranteed benefits.” Although beneficiaries who participate in Medicare Advantage are guaranteed original Medicare benefits, the other benefits offered by Medicare Advantage plans could change at a plan’s discretion.”
The benefits of many Medicare Advantage plans will be reduced as a result of reimbursement cuts under the health reform law. The ads are deceptive on that and other dimensions.
Based on prior cases, the GAO noted that agency communications “are considered purely partisan in nature if they are completely devoid of any connection with official functions and completely political in nature.” Thus, it apparently is legal for government agencies to propagandize politically at taxpayer expense as long as the communication includes some information that is not political and bears some connection to official functions.