March 20, 2012

Group urges DOJ to investigate taxpayer funds used to lobby for higher taxes

A government accountability group is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the use of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention money to lobby state and local officials for higher soda and tobacco taxes through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant program.

According to Cause of Action, a nonprofit advocacy group, there have been a number of grantees who have been using taxpayer money through the CPPW grant program to lobby local officials without oversight and despite prohibitions on such activity.

“For example, in March of 2010, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) received a $15 million CPPW grant for obesity prevention,” the group wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “A PDPH presentation, bearing a CPPW grant logo, noted that the Department planned to use CPPW monies to ‘[i]nitiate, enforce, and evaluate supportive policy and regulatory initiatives’ and to ‘implement a two-cent per ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Philadelphia.’” (RELATED: FoodPolitik: Want to live forever? Tax everything)

Cause of Action says they have found 20 instances of this type of lobbying. The group sent letters to the grantees who have used their funds to lobby in February and a letter to HHS requesting the agency look into the lobbying efforts this past October.

“The administration has been stonewalling attempts at transparency and accountability on how it is using taxpayer dollars,” Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein told TheDC. “Cause of Action sent a request to the Department of Health and Human Services months ago regarding the Communities Putting Prevention to Work grants that has gone unanswered, which is why we have now asked the DOJ to take a serious look at how the CDC grants were used by their recipients.”

Earlier this month, Kentucky Republican Reps. Ed Whitfield and Brett Guthrie sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting clarification on her understanding of the regulations governing lobbying with taxpayer funding.

Sebelius had testified before the the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health that she knew of such lobbying efforts, but that they were not prohibited because they were occurring at a local level.

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