Then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina was more intimately involved than previously known in the creation of an organization that funded millions of dollars of advertisements to boost President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, according to documents released today by House Republicans.
Messina, who is now the campaign manager for Obama’s re-election bid, also asked AARP to run robocalls in Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) home state of Nebraska during a key moment of the bill’s debate, threatened “war” with the AFL-CIO over an advertising-related dispute and met dozens of times at the White House with a political consultant running the health care advertising campaign funded by industry groups.
Media reports in 2009 revealed the role of White House officials in creating Healthy Economy Now, a nonprofit political organization that touted in fundraising solicitations that the names of donors would not be revealed.
Democrats pointed to those reports to argue that there was nothing new in the documents released today.
“There is nothing new here,” House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “The advertising by Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care was reported in detail in almost real time in 2009 and 2010, as was the information about the group’s members and its formation.”
The White House also sought to downplay the accusations.
“Republicans, who previously admitted this is not serious and merely a partisan effort to distract the president’s re-election campaign, are now attempting to recycle an old story that was well-covered during the original debate three years ago. This House Energy and Commerce Committee has spent over $1 million in taxpayer dollars and the past 16 months making baseless, politically-driven allegations — but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
But the documents show deeper involvement by the White House than previously acknowledged and offer a closer look at communications between the players involved.
In a staff memo released by the Energy and Commerce Committee, Republicans said that the new information showed hypocrisy on the part of Obama, who has blasted shadowy political groups that do not have to report the names of their donors.
“We don’t know who’s behind these ads and we don’t know who’s paying for them. ... A group can hide behind a phony name like ‘Citizens for a Better Future,’ even if a more accurate name would be ‘Corporations for Weaker Oversight,’” Obama said in an August 2010 radio address.
Messina and Jon Selib, chief of staff to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.,) convened an April 2009 meeting at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to brief an array of organizations about the planned ad campaign.
Michelle Nawar, an official with the Service Employees International Union, described the meeting in an April 22 email to Andy Stern, then head of the union.