Federal funds may have illegally supported state and local lobbying efforts as part of a “prevention and wellness” program by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to HHS’s Inspector General.
The IG noted that possibility in a letter to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who first raised concerns about the program. “Grantees may have violated a series of anti-lobbying statutes,” the IG found. Statements by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which administered the program, “appear to authorize, or even encourage, grantees to use grant funds for impermissible lobbying,” the IG added.
The CDC program awards grants to states to reduce smoking and obesity. Those grants cannot be used to lobby state or local legislatures, but the IG’s office found “numerous examples of activities that, on their face, may violate anti-lobbying provisions.”
The IG notes that while state and local efforts may have included lobbying, federal funds did not necessarily go towards those specific activities. But descriptions of some of the state and local activities at issue suggest at least an intention to misuse federal funds (if unwittingly).
This is an excerpt from the California Department of Health’s proposal for a CDC grant under the program (emphasis added):
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) proposes to use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to promote wellness and reduce chronic disease through statewide and local policy and environmental change in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco use. CDPH proposes to limit unhealthy drink availability (sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)) by working to advance policy changes that address the sale of sugar-sweetened electrolyte replacement beverages in California public schools.
A solicitation for contracts under the program by King County, WA, contained this description:
This RFP will support schools, local governments and communities in changing policies, systems and environments to increase HEAL… Activities must result in tangible policy, systems or environment changes—or significant steps towards making such changes—within 20 months.
An award summary for another King County grant says, “Focus of investment is on one time costs associated with instituting policy, systems and environmental changes in various sectors including schools, local governments, and community-based organizations.”
A Pennsylvania Department of Health summary says the CDC grant “supports promotion of wellness and chronic disease prevention through state-wide and local policy environment and environmental change.”
The HHS IG said it would investigate both the use of CDC grants to fund lobbying activities, and the agency’s oversight of those grants. Embedded below is the full correspondence between Sen. Collins and the Inspector General.