Sebelius faces scrutiny for serious potential ethics violations at HHS

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and other staffers may be inappropriately raising funds to promote Obamacare as enrollment woes continue.  Troubling questions and Freedom of Information Act requests by the Washington Examiner seem to be fraying nerves in certain quarters of the Obama administration.

Republicans on Capitol Hill were outraged to learn in May that Sebelius was asking high-powered CEOs to “donate” to Enroll America, a nonprofit organization created by Obama loyalists and designed to encourage Americans to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, according to an exclusive report by the Examiner.

Now, eight months later, a Sebelius spokesperson is evading questions about whether the potentially unethical practice has continued.

“The secretary has engaged in a sustained, aggressive outreach campaign to reach as many Americans as possible during open enrollment,” agency spokeswoman Joanne Peters wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner. “We’re [sic] have been working closely with a range of partners groups across the country to reach the uninsured.”

Emails reveal an intimate working relationship between the White House Office of Pubic Engagement and Enroll America President Anne Filipic – a former Obama aide. Of the 448 pages of emails and documents turned over in the Freedom of Information Act request, 257 were redacted and released to the Examiner, and another 179 were still under review.

The close relationships included these examples, according to the Examiner exclusive:

  • H&R Block donated $500,000 to Enroll America. The prominent tax services provider stands to make a mint advising clients on Obamacare subsidies and/or penalties.
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contributed $14 million to Enroll America. Although it supports anti-obesity and other health campaigns, the foundation also owns $1 billion in stock in Johnson & Johnson, whose drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration under Health and Human Services auspices.
  • Kaiser Permanente, no small player in the health care pantheon, has representatives on the Enroll America board.
  • Enroll America has also raised $27 million from the Ford Foundation, the California Endowment, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and others.

 U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member of the Senate Health Oversight Committee, said Sebelius’ solicitations are illegal because Congress denied funds to implement Obamacare and her behavior parrots Iran-Contra fundraising. He has asked the Government Accountability Office and the Health and Human Services inspector general to look into the extent of the agency’s relationship with Enroll America.

Watchdog groups agree that serious ethical questions have been raised, although they are not sure if Sebelius has crossed the legal line.

Update: 2/19 – 5:38pm

In an email to BizPac Review, H&R Block Corporate Communications Director Gene King said the tax services provider has not contributed any money to Enroll America. King did not comment on the emails obtained by the Examiner.

Richard Berkow

Former political news reporter Richard Berkow lost his idealism in the Kennedy years, and his innocence in Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Soviet Union. He hasn’t mellowed since, and can be harassed at [email protected]

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