Trump Admin Aimed To Create Taxpayer-Funded COVID PSA Based On Pro-Trump Politics

on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee show that the Trump administration tried to create a $250 million taxpayer-funded ad campaign on COVID-19, which was supposed to “defeat despair, inspire hope” on the pandemic, based on President Donald Trump’s politics.

House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), COVID-19 select subcommittee Chair Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday sounding the alarm over the documents, one of which reveals that Michael Caputo, who serves as assistant secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) for public affairs, had proposed “Helping the President will Help the Country” as a theme for the campaign.

“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” Maloney, Clyburn, and Krishnamoorthi wrote. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus—a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”

Additionally, other documents show that the Trump administration had vetted potential celebrity spokespeople for the campaign based on whether they’d criticized Trump in the past and/or espoused “liberal” beliefs on issues such as LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.

In one instance, the “PSA Celebrity Tracker” notes that actress Jennifer Lawrence is “not a Trump supporter, but supporter [of] Hillary Clinton.” It also mentions that actress Kerry Washington “wants to defeat Trump and his political agenda” and that singer Kelly Clarkson “has voiced her liberal opinions including legalizing marijuana, Hillary Clinton’s run for president, and NFL protests.”

Plans to start the campaign before Election Day ultimately fell through, and it is now under review by Azar.

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