I. Executive Summary
Since 2009, Congress has appropriated $373 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program. The goal of CPPW is to educate the public about obesity prevention and the dangers of tobacco use. Despite this noble goal, Cause of Action’s (CoA) nineteen month-long investigation shows that at least seven communities that received CPPW funds violated federal law, as well as CDC guidelines, by using taxpayer dollars to lobby for higher taxes and new local laws.
Although Congress conducted hearings in 2011 to question the CDC’s oversight of the program and followed up with letters to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in 2012, these questions only addressed one potential violation in one community in South Carolina. CoA found seven other potential violations of the CPPW program that have not been public until now, and learned that the CDC’s one recorded violation was worse than disclosed.
The CPPW program was intended for public education and job creation as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). 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 – essentially transforming the CPPW program into a conduit for lobbying for higher taxes and bans on otherwise legal consumer products.
CoA uncovered evidence of seven different communities around the country using CPPW money to lobby in violation of federal law and CDC policy. These warrant investigation, review, and accountability, especially in light of the $2 billion in annual funding scheduled for disbursement in 2015 under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Community Transformation Grants program to fight obesity and tobacco use at the local, state, and federal level. The HHS, the federal agency that oversees the CDC, is also the largest grant-issuing agency in the federal government.
The following report reveals how the CDC permitted and even encouraged CPPW grantees in Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and California to violate federal law and use CPPW funds to lobby state and local governments. Internal emails, applications to the CDC outlining plans for the funds, and meeting notes blatantly show systemic corruption and use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying.
CoA found that lobbying by CPPW grant recipients violates the following four laws and guidelines:
- The Anti-Lobbying Act prohibits the use of money appropriated by Congress to influence, “an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.”
- The CDC issued additional guidance prohibiting CPPW funds from lobbying use. Known as Additional Requirement 12 (AR-12) in the CDC’s guidelines, this rule “specifically [applies] to lobbying related to any proposed, pending, or future Federal, state, or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product.”
- In 2012, Congress included language in an appropriations bill to clarify that CPPW funds were prohibited from “any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending, or future Federal, State, or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product.”
- Office of Management and Budget Circular A-122 prohibits the use of federal funds to attempt to influence federal or state legislation through “communication with any member or employee of the Congress or State legislature” or “by preparing, distributing, or using publicity or propaganda, or by urging members of the general public or any segment thereof to contribute to or participate in any mass demonstration, march, rally, fundraising drive, lobbying campaign, or letter writing or telephone campaign.”
South Carolina: A Case Study in Corruption
In addition to the previously mentioned five states, the CPPW pattern of corruption can most easily be traced through the example of South Carolina.
Direct use of federal funds to lobby
As revealed by communications between local officials and the CDC, funds from a CPPW grant to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) were used to illegally lobby city council members in support of a pending local smoke-free ordinance, proof of direct illegal lobbying with CPPW funds.
Stealth lobbying by coalitions to avoid legal oversight
The Smoke Free Florence (SFF) coalition is a group of like-minded organizations that formed to lobby for the causes outlined in DHEC’s CPPW grant application, and yet, by design, the SFF evades regulations that apply to lobbyists. Known as stealth lobbying, this approach is one way to avoid lobbying rules but still, in effect, conduct lobbying while receiving federal dollars.
CDC failure to properly oversee the use of grant funds
In its review of South Carolina’s grant application from Florence County, which includes a proposal to hire a coordinator “to promote comprehensive smoke-free policies/ordinances throughout the county,” the CDC failed to prohibit lobbying activity, and in fact sent a CDC grants officer to local community meetings where this officer announced that securing a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance was “the number one priority with the [SFF] initiative and 100% adoption will be the determining factor” of success. While the CDC later reprimanded the South Carolina recipients for their misuse of funds, they largely ignored that meeting minutes were scrubbed to change the appearance of impropriety, raising other potential legal issues outside of improper lobbying.
This report evidences a complete failure of an HHS grant program to adhere to the law, use taxpayer dollars responsibly, or secure jobs it was intended to create. What follows are numerous examples of counties and states across the country advocating, planning, and supporting legislation in direct violation of federal law and CDC guidelines. The clock is ticking toward 2015, when $2 billion more will be allocated to similar programs. This report only begins to document the extent of waste, fraud, and abuse within CPPW, as CoA is still awaiting copious amounts of documents from both the CDC and HHS Office of Inspector General. The systemic pattern of misfeasance among grantees will end only when the CDC acts responsibly on behalf of the American taxpayers who have become the biggest losers in the government’s campaign to end obesity.