There’s plenty of attention on the IRS targeting of conservatives, but when you have that scandal along with Benghazi, the snooping on AP reporters and the criminalization of basic journalism, it’s easy to overlook something as mundane as a Secretary of Health and Human Services scandal.
But this could be a big deal, considering how closely it resembles the Iran-Contra scandal.
Current and former administration officials have taken on leadership and fundraising roles for Enroll America, a nonprofit aiming to make sure people sign up for new coverage options. As the ties grow deeper, the organization has come to feel like “just an arm of the administration,” said one official who works closely with insurers.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has already come under fire from congressional Republicans because she has raised money for the organization.
They say it puts inappropriate pressure on insurers, who will need the department’s approval to sell their products through a federally run insurance exchange in more than half the country.
“Companies and organizations should never be pressured for money because it sends the message that contributions are necessary to secure favorable regulatory decisions — creating a ‘pay to play’ environment — or to avoid regulatory reprisals,” Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee said in a recent letter to Sebelius.
The White House and the Health Department have defended Sebelius, saying her fundraising is legal and consistent with the George W. Bush administration’s effort to publicize Medicare’s prescription drug benefit when it came into effect in 2006.
Her fundraising is legal?
Not according to Lamar Alexander:
The Washington Post quoted an HHS spokesman last week saying, “We requested additional money [from Congress] . . . but we didn’t receive any additional funding for the exchanges. So we had to come up with Plan B.”
My immediate thought was: Isn’t “Plan B” what got Oliver North in trouble during the 1980s?
North came into the public spotlight as a result of his participation in the Iran–Contra affair, a political scandal during the Reagan Administration, in which he claimed partial responsibility for the sale of weapons via intermediaries to Iran, with the profits being channeled to the Contras in Nicaragua. He was reportedly responsible for the establishment of a covert network, which funneled those funds to the Contras. concerned about human rights violations by the contras, the US Congress passed the Boland Amendment (to the House Appropriations Bill of 1982 and subsequent years) which prohibited the appropriation of U.S. funds by intelligence agencies for that purpose. The money was passed through a shell organization, the “National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty,” to the Palmer National Bank of Washington, D.C. and then to the Contras.
Last week, chairmen and ranking Republicans on five congressional committees in both houses of Congress asked the Government Accountability Office to find out the facts. Is Ms. Sebelius raising funds for a private entity and then coordinating with that entity to do something Congress has refused to authorize, or for which it has refused to appropriate funds? And is she raising money from organizations she regulates, in violation of ethics laws?
If the money being raised by Ms. Sebelius is being spent to do an end-run around Congress, then the Obama administration had better brush up on its Iran-Contra history.