Politics
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pauses during her testimony before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about issues and complications with the Affordable Care Act enrolment website, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 30, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst) Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pauses during her testimony before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about issues and complications with the Affordable Care Act enrolment website, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 30, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)  

Sebelius supported in press by ‘pay-to-play’ scandal figure

Photo of Patrick Howley
Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is being propped up in the press by the founder of an Obamacare advocacy group at the center of an ethics audit involving Sebelius’ fundraising work outside of the administration.

“You know, when you’ve got a father and father-in-law who are from different political parties, both outspoken. … I think she learned a great deal from that, and I think it has served her very well,” Ron Pollack told CNN near the top of a recent favorable article detailing how Sebelius’ personal experiences prepared her well “for the partisan cauldron she’s now enduring in Washington” over her failed Obamacare rollout.

Pollack spoke to CNN in his position as executive director and vice president at the health-care advocacy group Families USA. The article did not disclose that Pollack is still the founding board chairman of Enroll America, for which Sebelius solicited donations from HHS-regulated interests.

Critics claim that Enroll America, headed by a former Obama White House official, is acting as a nonprofit Obamacare navigator outside of the federal government.

Sebelius admitted in testimony before a House ethics panel in June that she personally asked the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block to contribute to Enroll America. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation owns more than $1 billion across 13 million shares of stock in Johnson & Johnson, which is regulated by HHS.

The HHS inspector general even subpoenaed Johnson and Johnson in August for information about its promotional efforts for a pain medication.

Sebelius also admitted that she called the health insurers Kaiser Permanente, Ascension Health, and Johnson and Johnson — all of which are regulated by HHS — to discuss Enroll America, but without soliciting donations in those calls. Sebelius bestowed a 2012 award on Kaiser Permanente Colorado, vowing that Kaiser “will be serving as a role model for the rest of the country.”

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) open audit of Sebelius’ communications on behalf of Enroll America is still pending, though a GAO spokesman did not provide details about the status of the audit.

Anne Filipic became president of Enroll America in early 2013 directly after exiting her role as deputy director the White House Office of Public Engagement. Former Obama White House economic official Chris Wyant is now Enroll America’s managing director.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave $10 million. H & R Block gave $500,000 to Enroll America,” Justin Danhof, general counsel for the National Center for Public Policy Research, told The Daily Caller.

“Enroll America is working as a governmental body but outside of the government. It’s the government’s job to enroll people in the Obamacare exchanges, but Enroll America is doing it as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization,” said Danhof, whose research chronicles links between Enroll America and left-wing groups like the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, National Council of La Raza and the Service Employees International Union, all of which serve on Enroll America’s advisory council.

“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,” Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee wrote to Sebelius in a May letter addressing her relationship with Enroll America.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not return a request for comment.

Follow Patrick on Twitter