Cause of Action, a nonpartisan government watchdog, released a report Wednesday implicating gross misuse of Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) funds appropriated under the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."
The CPPW program was designed to be a community education program which revolved around "implementing environmental changes to make healthy living easier... ensuring provision of healthy food and beverage options in schools; limiting exposure to secondhand smoke; and increasing available tobacco cessation resources."
While the majority of resources designated to the program were used appropriately, a significant percentage of taxpayer dollars was spent in contrast to several legal statues, including the "Anti-Lobbying Act of 1913." In spite of the long standing and well known prohibition of federally aided lobbying, local communities allocated funds designated specifically to organize, craft policy, and lobby elected officials.
Communities like the Pima County Health Department in Arizona, the Department of Health and Environmental Control in South Carolina, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in California were among those cited by CoA.
Overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, the CPPW program is comprised of over $373 million, $94.4 million of which was disbursed to the grantees implicated in the CoA's report.
From the report:
"CoA’s investigation revealed that CPPW money went to support lobbyists and public relations companies who used taxpayer dollars to push laws and agendas that would lead to tax increases on tobacco and high calorie products"
While misused government funding went towards local lobbying efforts Congress only conducted oversight hearings regarding one potential violation.
"The CDC and HHS appear to have ignored explicit statements from CPPW grantees who planned to use CPPW funds to lobby local governments, in violation of federal law. The HHS OIG noted that the lobbying violations by grantees may have resulted from the CDC’s ambiguous or inadequate guidance."
CoA discovered instances of misuse, through Freedom of Information Act requests, by at least seven grantees in six different states: South Carolina, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and California.
A common thread between the various states was "indifference among agency officials to well-established federal law that prohibits lobbying at any level of government." Conflating lobbying efforts with education remains a legal and regulatory hurdle for prosecution. Nevertheless, the more blatant instances of violations should be met with swift consequences.
While reducing health risks to Americans remains a laudable goal, the misuse of government funding in tandem with poor oversight and accountability leads one to question what additional programs or agencies are asleep at the wheel when it comes to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully.