HHS: Nothing improper about Sebelius’s ObamaCare fundraising

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) says there's nothing illegal or improper about soliciting donations to help promote President Obama's healthcare law.

Republicans leapt at the news that HHS Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusSpecial counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mike Roman says 3M on track to deliver 2 billion respirators globally and 1 billion in US by end of year; US, Pfizer agree to 100M doses of COVID-19 vaccine that will be free to Americans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former HHS Secretary Sebelius gives Trump administration a D in handling pandemic; Oxford, AstraZeneca report positive dual immunity results from early vaccine trial MORE has been asking industry and community groups to donate to Enroll America, an outside organization created to promote the health law and encourage people to enroll in its new coverage options.


HHS spokesman Jason Young said the fundraising push serves the department's basic goals.

"Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new affordable, high quality insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law," he said. "For the last several months the Secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve."

Young said Sebelius has not made any fundraising requests to "entities regulated by HHS."

The Washington Post first reported Friday that Sebelius has made fundraising calls to "health industry executives, community organizations and church groups" on Enroll America's behalf. Congressional Republicans have refused to provide additional funding to implement the healthcare law.

"We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work," Young said.

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Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGraham: GOP has votes to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda MORE (R-Tenn.) likened the fundraising to the Iran-Contra scandal, saying it's illegal to raise money for outside groups that are essentially arms of the government.

Young pointed to a section of the Public Health Service Act that specifically allows the HHS secretary to work with outside organizations.

"The Secretary is authorized to support by grant or contract (and to encourage others to support) private nonprofit entities working in health information and health promotion, preventive health services, and education in the appropriate use of health care," the law states.

A spokesman for Alexander wasn't convinced, and pointed to a separate federal law — the Anti-Deficiency Act. He said that statute prohibits federal employees from circumventing the appropriations process using private organizations that function as an arm of the government.

"The fact that Congress won't appropriate more money for Obamacare isn't a defense, because the precise point of the Anti-Deficiency Act is that if Congress won't appropriate the money, the executive branch is not allowed to raise funds twisting arms in the private sector," the spokesman said.

— This post was updated at 3:23 p.m.