Emails: White House worked with health industry to send business to Axelrod’s firm

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

The charge that the Obama administration coordinated with the health-care industry in 2009 during the Obamacare fight to send a good chunk of business to the consulting firm founded by presidential adviser David Axelrod has resurfaced in the news media.

At issue is whether the White House worked with officials inside the industry to form the outside group, “Healthy Economy Now,” which ran pro-Obamacare ads with the help of Axelrod’s former political consulting firm, AKPD Message and Media.

In 2009, the firm not only still employed Axelrod’s son, but it still owed the presidential adviser money as part of his buy-out deal with the firm ahead of leaving to work in the White House.

New details have emerged with the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently releasing a barrage of emails showing communications between the administration and the industry sent ahead of the push for Obama’s health care overhaul.

The emails — which have been reviewed by The Daily Caller — include the revelation that the AKPD consultants were being described as “[White House] WH-designated folks.”

“They have been put in charge of the campaign to pass health reform,” Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America (PhRMA) consultant Steve McMahon wrote of a group of consultants, including those from AKPD.

The emails also show how the health-care industry was concerned in 2009 about the revelation in the media that they were partnering with AKPD.

“I want to alert everyone to a potential problem,” wrote Ken Johnson, the senior vice president of PhRMA, in an email to colleagues on June 30, 2009.

“Bloomberg is getting ready to report that ‘political consultants’ close to the White House — more specifically close to [now-former White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel — will be running our 100 million plus dollar campaign to try to pass comprehensive health care reform,” he wrote.

PhRMA lobbyist Bryant Hall responded, writing, “This is a big problem.”

Democratic consultant Nick Baldick chimed in: “Your person can just say, AKPD is not working for PhRMA.”

Hall responded: “Yes — we can spin whatever, but just depends on who is talking to Bloomberg and what they are saying.”

“I also get the impression from talking to the reporter that we will get a heavy dose of criticism for selecting these particular consultants,” Johnson wrote.

The consultants apparently being referenced were John Del Cecato, Larry Grisolano and Andy Grossman. In a June 3, 2009 email, McMahon, the PhRMA consultant, described them as the “WH-designated folks” and wrote that they “are very close to Axelrod (Griz and DelCecato are partners in Ax’s firm).”

The emails suggest that the Obama administration had a role in the creation of the Healthy Economy Now group, which came about after a April 15, 2009 meeting attended by White House official Jim Messina.

In an April 13 email, Jon Selib, chief of staff to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, wrote to officials inside the health-care industry: “Messina and I are organizing a meeting on health reform at the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] DSCC on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 P.M.”

Those on the email included Michelle Nawar of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Karen Ignagni of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), David Sloane of AARP, Bryant Hall of PhRMA, Amanda Austin of NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business] and Bill Miller of the Chamber of Commerce.

In an April 22, 2009 email, Nawar described that meeting, explaining that the group wanted to see ads “linking [health-care] HC reform to the economy and the need to do HC reform now,” and wanted the organizations to contribute money to the “Healthy Economy Now” effort.

The emails make it clear that despite working with the White House on the issue, the health-care industry did not want to be viewed as in the pockets of the Obama administration.

“I think we will try to keep a little space between us and the White House on the issue,” AARP official John Rother wrote in an email on Nov. 6, 2009. “Our polling shows we are more influential when we are seen as independent, so we want to reinforce that position.”

The White House has dismissed the new emails as old news.

“This was reported extensively two years ago that Mr. Axelrod was not involved in any way in the contract between AKDP and PhRMA on the issue of health-care reform,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And there’s nothing new that was reported in The Wall Street Journal or anywhere else that sheds anything — that sheds any new light on that.”

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