[Ip-health] WSJ story on PhRMA, the White House, David Axelrod, Obamacare, and AKPD Message and Media

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Fri Jun 22 08:57:23 PDT 2012


This is a story about new disclosures of 2009 emails about the White
House steering PhRMA money to AKPD Message and Media, the firm that
owed David Axelrod money, and employed his son.


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304765304577480871706139792.html

POTOMAC WATCH Updated June 21, 2012, 7:29 p.m.

Strassel: Axelrod's ObamaCare Dollars

Emails suggest the White House pushed business to the presidential
adviser's former firm to sell the health-care law.

By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304765304577480871706139792.html

POTOMAC WATCH Updated June 21, 2012, 7:29 p.m.

Strassel: Axelrod's ObamaCare Dollars

Emails suggest the White House pushed business to the presidential
adviser's former firm to sell the health-care law.

By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL

Rewind to 2009. The fight over ObamaCare is raging, and a few news
outlets report that something looks ethically rotten in the White
House. An outside group funded by industry is paying the former firm
of senior presidential adviser David Axelrod to run ads in favor of
the bill. That firm, AKPD Message and Media, still owes Mr. Axelrod
money and employs his son.

The story quickly died, but emails recently released by the House
Energy and Commerce Committee ought to resurrect it. The emails
suggest the White House was intimately involved both in creating this
lobby and hiring Mr. Axelrod's firm—which is as big an ethical no-no
as it gets.

Mr. Axelrod—who left the White House last year—started AKPD in 1985.
The firm earned millions helping run Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Mr.
Axelrod moved to the White House in 2009 and agreed to have AKPD buy
him out for $2 million. But AKPD chose to pay Mr. Axelrod in annual
installments—even as he worked in the West Wing. This agreement
somehow passed muster with the Office of Government Ethics, though the
situation at the very least should have walled off AKPD from working
on White-House priorities.

It didn't. The White House and industry were working hand-in-glove to
pass ObamaCare in 2009, and among the vehicles supplying ad support
was an outfit named Healthy Economy Now (HEN). News stories at the
time described this as a "coalition" that included the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the American Medical
Association, and labor groups—suggesting these entities had started
and controlled it.

House emails show HEN was in fact born at an April 15, 2009 meeting
arranged by then-White House aide Jim Messina and a chief of staff for
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. The two politicos met at the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and invited representatives of
business and labor.

A Service Employees International Union attendee sent an email to
colleagues noting she'd been invited by the Baucus staffer,
explaining: "Also present was Jim Messina. . . . They basically want
to see adds linking HC reform to the economy. . . . there were not a
lot of details, but we were told that we wd be getting a phone call.
well that call came today."

The call was from Nick Baldick, a Democratic consultant who had worked
on the Obama campaign and for the DSCC. Mr. Baldick started HEN. The
only job of PhRMA and others was to fund it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Axelrod's old firm was hired to run the ads promoting
ObamaCare. At the time, a HEN spokesman said HEN had done the hiring.
But the emails suggest otherwise. In email after email, the
contributors to HEN refer to four men as the "White House" team
running health care. They included John Del Cecato and Larry Grisolano
(partners at AKPD), as well as Andy Grossman (who once ran the DSCC)
and Erik Smith, who had been a paid adviser to the Obama presidential
campaign.

In one email, PhRMA consultant Steve McMahon calls these four the
"WH-designated folks." He explains to colleagues that Messrs.
Grossman, Grisolano and Del Cecato "are very close to Axelrod," and
that "they have been put in charge of the campaign to pass health
reform." Ron Pollack, whose Families USA was part of the HEN
coalition, explained to colleagues that "the team that is working with
the White House on health-care reform. . . . [Grossman, Smith, Del
Cecato, Grisolano] . . . would like to get together with us." This
would provide "guidance from the White House about their messaging."

According to White House visitor logs, Mr. Smith had 28 appointments
scheduled between May and August—17 made through Mr. Messina or his
assistant. Mr. Grossman appears in the logs at least 19 times. Messrs.
Del Cecato and Grisolano of AKPD also visited in the spring and
summer, at least twice with Mr. Axelrod, who was deep in the
health-care fight.

A 2009 PhRMA memo also makes clear that AKPD had been chosen before
PhRMA joined HEN. It's also clear that some contributors didn't like
the conflict of interest. When, in July 2009, a media outlet prepared
to report AKPD's hiring, a PhRMA participant said: "This is a big
problem." Mr. Baldick advises: "just say, AKPD is not working for
PhRMA." AKPD and another firm, GMMB, would handle $12 million in ad
business from HEN and work for a successor 501(c)4.

A basic rule of White House ethics is to avoid even the appearance of
self-dealing or nepotism. If Mr. Axelrod or his West Wing chums pushed
political business toward Mr. Axelrod's former firm, they contributed
to his son's salary as well as to the ability of the firm to pay Mr.
Axelrod what it still owed him. Could you imagine the press frenzy if
Karl Rove had dome the same after he joined the White House?

Messrs. Axelrod and Messina are now in Chicago running Mr. Obama's
campaign. Mr. Axelrod, the White House and a partner for AKPD didn't
respond to requests for comment on their role in HEN, the tapping of
Mr. Baldick, and the redolent hiring of AKPD. Until the White House
explains all this, voters can fairly conclude that the President's
political team took their Chicago brand of ethics into the White
House.

Write to kim at wsj.com

A version of this article appeared June 22, 2012, on page A15 in the
U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Axelrod's
ObamaCare Dollars.




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