GAO to probe administration's hiring of pundit
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether the Bush administration broke the law when it paid a syndicated columnist to help its pro-marriage efforts.
The Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged Jan. 28 that it awarded $41,500 in grants to Maggie Gallagher, an authority on marriage and family, to write brochures and other materials in support of President Bush's marriage initiative.
While working on behalf of HHS and the Justice Department in 2002 and 2003, Gallagher also wrote several columns supporting Bush's plan. She said the arrangement didn't influence her columns, but she said in January, "It was a mistake on my part not to have disclosed any government contract. It will not happen again."
The admission by HHS came a day after Bush called for an end to paying commentators to promote White House policies. GAO is already investigating a $240,000 Department of Education contract with columnist and pundit Armstrong Williams to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind education plan. Williams agreed to produce ads and promote the program during TV and radio appearances but never disclosed the deal on air.
In a letter sent Thursday to Democratic Sens. Edward Kennedy and Frank Lautenberg, GAO said it would probe whether Gallagher's contract used taxpayer funds "for publicity or propaganda purposes."
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