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Media - Propaganda Now

A U.S. Senate bill to stop taxpayer funded Government propaganda

"...we have to stop right now all the taxpayer-financed propaganda put out by our government to influence the American people. We need to expedite the investigations, begin congressional hearings, and pass specific new legislation to prevent the administration from using persons paid to pose as legitimate journalists to push for the Bush political agenda.

  Last week, we found out, according to the Washington Post, that another commentator, Maggie Gallagher, was paid $21,500 by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the Bush administration's marriage agenda--a fact she didn't disclose to her readers while writing on the issue.

  As most of us now know, thanks to USA Today, the outgoing leadership of the Education Department secretly, and still unapologetically, paid $241,000 to commentator Armstrong Williams to influence his broadcasts. Mr. Williams was paid to comment favorably on the President's No Child Left Behind Act education reform plan, to conduct phony ''interviews'' with administration officials, and to encourage his colleagues in the media to do the same.

  The Gallagher and Williams payments were part of a multimillion dollar, taxpayer-funded public relations scheme to influence and undermine America's free press. Journalists were ranked on the favorability of their news coverage of President Bush on education. Phony video reports and interviews about the President's Medicare prescription drug law were broadcast as independent news on local television.

  All parties agree that this type of secret government paid journalism is wrong. Yet Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Williams continue to retain their $21,500 and $241,000 bribes."

 

Bill Status: Introduced
This bill was proposed in a previous session of Congress. Sessions of Congress last two years, and at the end of each session all proposed bills and resolutions that haven't passed are cleared from the books. This bill did not become a law in the 109th U.S. Congress (2005-2006) (Republican-controlled).

 


 

Congressional Record: February 2, 2005 (Senate)
Page S895-S898



          STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS


By      Mr. LAUTENBERG (for himself, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Durbin,
        Mr. Corzine, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Dorgan, Mrs. Murray,
        Mr. Johnson, Mr. Reed, Mr. Lieberman, and Mr. Leahy):

S. 266. A bill to stop taxpayer funded Government propaganda;
        to the Committee on the Judiciary.

  Mr. LAUTENBERG. Mr. President, I rise to introduce
legislation to put an end to the spate of propaganda we are
seeing across our government. In my view, it is a practice
that is inconsistent with democracy, and we have to put a stop
to it.

  That is why Senator Kennedy and I have drafted the "Stop
Government Propaganda Act" which we are introducing today,
along with our cosponsors, Senators Durbin, Corzine, Clinton,
Dorgan, Murray, Johnson, Jack Reed, Lieberman and Leahy.

[[Page S896]]

  Our bill will shut down the Administration's propaganda mill
once and for all.
  Propaganda had its place in Saddam's Iraq. Propaganda was a
staple of the old Soviet Union. But covert government
propaganda has no place in the United States Government.
  In the last few weeks, we have seen revelations that a number
of conservative columnists are actually on the Bush
Administration's payroll to push the President's agenda.
  Armstrong Williams was paid to improve the image of President
Bush's education programs, and the columnists Maggie Gallagher
and Mike McManus were paid to promote the President's "marriage
initiative."
  Some have called it the ''pundit payola'' scandal. But this
scandal goes well beyond these particular payments to
journalists.
  In fact, these secret payments are only the latest in a
series of covert propaganda activities conducted by this
Administration.
  Last year, we discovered that the Administration was paying
public relations firm to creat fake television news stories.
These fake news stories touting the new Medicare law made their
way onto local news shows on forty television stations across
the country.
  These fake news stories even featured a fake reporter--Karen
Ryan "reporting from Washington." While Karen Ryan does exist,
she's not a reporter. She is a public relations consultant
based here in Washington.
  Worse, the viewers who watched these fake news stories
thought they were hearing real news. But what they were
watching was Government-produced propaganda.
  The Government Accountability Office investigated the
legality of these fake news stories and came back with a clear
decision: it was illegal propaganda. The GAO also said that the
Administration must officially report the misspent funds to
Congress.
  But the Bush Administration simply ignored GAO's legal
ruling. The Administration said that because of the separation
of powers, the GAO can't tell them what to do.
  So, in other words, the Administration has said that they
will ignore the current law on the books. That is why we are
introducing new legislation today that will put real teeth in
the anti propaganda law.
  Our bill, the Stop Government Propaganda Act, does two major
things:
  First, it makes the Anti-Propaganda law permanent.
  Right now, the anti-propaganda law is passed year to year as
a "rider" in our appropriations bills. Making the law permanent
will show that we are serious about it and want it obeyed.
  Also, our bill has real consequences for violations by the
Administration. The current law is enforced by GAO, and the
Administration is obviously ignoring their rulings. That has
to change.
  Our bill calls for the Justice Department to pursue these
violations. But in cases where DOJ fails to act, our bill
authorizes citizen lawsuits to enforce the law.
  And we also give added power to the GAO. Right now, the
Administration ignores the GAO's legal decisions. But our bill
will make it downright painful for the Administration to ignore
the GAO.
  When the GAO finds that taxpayer funds are misspent for
propaganda purposes, and the agency fails to follow the GAO's
ordered actions, our bill would call for the head of that
agency's salary to be withheld.
  Our bill establishes a point of order against any
appropriations bill that fails to enforce the salary reduction.
  Last week, President Bush said he agrees that it is wrong to
pay journalists and that the practice must stop. But at the
same time, the Bush Administration continues to ignore GAO's
rulings on their propaganda violations.
  And while the attention was on Armstrong Williams, the
Administration has been ramping up propaganda efforts at the
Social Security Administration. In fact, last week, the
Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from two Social
Security employees who revealed how they are being forced to
push the White House agenda on the public.
  Rather than concentrate on getting benefits out or servicing
people on Social Security, the White House is using SSA
employees to spread its false propaganda message of a "crisis"
in Social Security.
  That is why we must act now to put a stop to all of these
practices. I urge my colleagues to support our bill, the Stop
Government Propaganda Act.
  As we seek to establish democracy in Iraq, let's first remove
this taint from our own democracy.
  I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed
in the Record.
  There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed
in the Record, as follows:

                             S. 266

   Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of
 the United States of America in Congress assembled,

 SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

   This Act may be cited as the ''Stop Government Propaganda
 Act''.

 SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

   Congress makes the following findings:
   (1) Since 1951, the following prohibition on the use of
 appropriated funds for propaganda purposes has been enacted
 annually: ''No part of any appropriation contained in this or
 any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda
 purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized
 by Congress.''.
   (2) On May 19, 2004, the Government Accountability Office
 (GAO) ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services
 violated the publicity and propaganda prohibitions by
 creating fake television new stories for distribution to
 broadcast stations across the country.
   (3) On January 4, 2005, the GAO ruled that the Office of
 National drug Control Policy violated the publicity and
 propaganda prohibitions by distributing fake television news
 stories to broadcast stations from 2002 to 2004.
   (4) In 2003, the Department of Education violated publicity
 and propaganda prohibitions by using of taxpayer funds to
 create fake television news stories promoting the ''No Child
 Left Behind'' program violated the propaganda prohibition.
   (5) An analysis of individual journalists, paid for by the
 Department of Education in 2003, which ranked reporters on
 how positive their articles portrayed the Administration and
 the Republican Party, constituted a gross violation of the
 law prohibiting propaganda and the use of taxpayer funds for
 partisan purposes.
   (6) The payment of taxpayer funds to journalist Armstrong
 Williams in 2003 to promote Administration education policies
 violated the ban on covert propaganda.
   (7) The payment of taxpayer funds to journalist Maggie
 Gallagher in 2002 to promote Administration welfare and
 family policies violated the ban on covert propaganda.
   (8) Payment for and construction of 8 little red
 schoolhouse facades at the entranceways to the Department of
 Education headquarters in Washington, DC to boost the image
 of the ''No Child Left Behind'' program was an inappropriate
 use of taxpayer dollars.
   (9) Messages inserted into Social Security Administration
 materials in 2004 and 2005 intended to further grassroots
 lobbying efforts in favor of President Bush's Social Security
 privatization plan is an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.
   (10) The Department of Health and Human Services ignored
 the Government Accountability Office's legal decision of May
 19, 2004, and failed to follow the GAO's directive to report
 its Anti-Deficiency Act violation to Congress and the
 President, as provided by section 1351 of title 31, United
 States Code.
   (11) Despite numerous violations of the propaganda law, the
 Department of Justice has not acted to enforce the law or
 follow the requirements of the Anti-Deficiency Act.
   (12) In order to protect taxpayer funds, stronger measures
 must be enacted into law to require actual enforcement of the
 ban on the use of taxpayer funds for propaganda purposes.

 SEC. 3. DEFINITION.

   In this Act, the term ''publicity'' or ''propaganda''
 includes--
   (1) a news release or other publication that does not
 clearly identify the Government agency directly or indirectly
 (through a contractor) financially responsible for the
 message;
   (2) any audio or visual presentation that does not
 continuously and clearly identify the Government agency
 directly or indirectly financially responsible for the
 message;
   (3) an Internet message that does not continuously and
 clearly identify the Government agency directly or indirectly
 financially responsible for the message;
   (4) any attempt to manipulate the news media by payment to
 any journalist, reporter, columnist, commentator, editor, or
 news organization;
   (5) any message designed to aid a political party or
 candidate;
   (6) any message with the purpose of self-aggrandizement or
 puffery of the Administration, agency, Executive branch
 programs or policies, or pending congressional legislation;
   (7) a message of a nature tending to emphasize the
 importance of the agency or its activities;
   (8) a message that is so misleading or inaccurate that it
 constitutes propaganda; and

[[Page S897]]

   (9) the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit,
 pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or video
 presentation designed to support or defeat legislation
 pending before Congress or any State legislature, except in
 presentation to Congress or any State legislature itself.

 SEC. 4. PROHIBITION ON PUBLICITY OR PROPAGANDA AND
               ENFORCEMENT.

   (a) In General.--The senior official of an Executive branch
 agency who authorizes or directs funds appropriated to such
 Executive branch agency for publicity or propaganda purposes
 within the United States, unless authorized by law, is liable
 to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not
 less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000, plus 3 times the
 amount of funds appropriated.
   (b) Responsibilities of the Attorney General.--The Attorney
 General diligently shall investigate a violation of
 subsection (a). If the Attorney General finds that a person
 has violated or is violating subsection (a), the Attorney
 General may bring a civil action under this section against
 the person.
   (c) Actions by Private Persons.--
   (1) In general.--A person may bring a civil action for a
 violation of subsection (a) for the person and for the United
 States Government. The action shall be brought in the name of
 the Government. The action may be dismissed only if the court
 and the Attorney General give written consent to the
 dismissal and their reasons for consenting.
   (2) Notice.--A copy of the complaint and written disclosure
 of substantially all material evidence and information the
 person possesses shall be served on the Government pursuant
 to Rule 4(d)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The
 complaint shall be filed in camera, shall remain under seal
 for at least 60 days, and shall not be served on the
 defendant until the court so orders. The Government may elect
 to intervene and proceed with the action within 60 days after
 it receives both the complaint and the material evidence and
 information.
   (3) Delay of notice.--The Government may, for good cause
 shown, move the court for extensions of the time during which
 the complaint remains under seal under paragraph (2). Any
 such motions may be supported by affidavits or other
 submissions in camera. The defendant shall not be required to
 respond to any complaint filed under this section until 20
 days after the complaint is unsealed and served upon the
 defendant pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil
 Procedure.
   (4) Government action.--Before the expiration of the 60-day
 period or any extensions obtained under paragraph (3), the
 Government shall--
   (A) proceed with the action, in which case the action shall
 be conducted by the Government; or
   (B) notify the court that it declines to take over the
 action, in which case the person bringing the action shall
 have the right to conduct the action.
   (5) Limited intervention.--When a person brings an action
 under this subsection, no person other than the Government
 may intervene or bring a related action based on the facts
 underlying the pending action.
   (d) Rights of the Parties.--
   (1) Government action.--If the Government proceeds with the
 action, it shall have the primary responsibility for
 prosecuting the action, and shall not be bound by an act of
 the person bringing the action. Such person shall have the
 right to continue as a party to the action, subject to the
 limitations set forth in paragraph (2).
   (2) Limitations.--
   (A) Dismissal.--The Government may dismiss the action
 notwithstanding the objections of the person initiating the
 action if the person has been notified by the Government of
 the filing of the motion and the court has provided the
 person with an opportunity for a hearing on the motion.
   (B) Settlement.--The Government may settle the action with
 the defendant notwithstanding the objections of the person
 initiating the action if the court determines, after a
 hearing, that the proposed settlement is fair, adequate, and
 reasonable under all the circumstances. Upon a showing of
 good cause, such hearing may be held in camera.
   (C) Proceedings.--Upon a showing by the Government that
 unrestricted participation during the course of the
 litigation by the person initiating the action would
 interfere with or unduly delay the Government's prosecution
 of the case, or would be repetitious, irrelevant, or for
 purposes of harassment, the court may, in its discretion,
 impose limitations on the person's participation, such as--
   (i) limiting the number of witnesses the person may call;
   (ii) limiting the length of the testimony of such
 witnesses;
   (iii) limiting the person's cross-examination of witnesses;
 or
   (iv) otherwise limiting the participation by the person in
 the litigation.
   (D) Limit participation.--Upon a showing by the defendant
 that unrestricted participation during the course of the
 litigation by the person initiating the action would be for
 purposes of harassment or would cause the defendant undue
 burden or unnecessary expense, the court may limit the
 participation by the person in the litigation.
   (3) Action by person.--If the Government elects not to
 proceed with the action, the person who initiated the action
 shall have the right to conduct the action. If the Government
 so requests, it shall be served with copies of all pleadings
 filed in the action and shall be supplied with copies of all
 deposition transcripts (at the Government's expense). When a
 person proceeds with the action, the court, without limiting
 the status and rights of the person initiating the action,
 may nevertheless permit the Government to intervene at a
 later date upon a showing of good cause.
   (4) Interference.--Whether or not the Government proceeds
 with the action, upon a showing by the Government that
 certain actions of discovery by the person initiating the
 action would interfere with the Government's investigation or
 prosecution of a criminal or civil matter arising out of the
 same facts, the court may stay such discovery for a period of
 not more than 60 days. Such a showing shall be conducted in
 camera. The court may extend the 60-day period upon a further
 showing in camera that the Government has pursued the
 criminal or civil investigation or proceedings with
 reasonable diligence and any proposed discovery in the civil
 action will interfere with the ongoing criminal or civil
 investigation or proceedings.
   (5) Government action.--Notwithstanding subsection (b), the
 Government may elect to pursue its claim through any
 alternate remedy available to the Government, including any
 administrative proceeding to determine a civil money penalty.
 If any such alternate remedy is pursued in another
 proceeding, the person initiating the action shall have the
 same rights in such proceeding as such person would have had
 if the action had continued under this section. Any finding
 of fact or conclusion of law made in such other proceeding
 that has become final shall be conclusive on all parties to
 an action under this section. For purposes of the preceding
 sentence, a finding or conclusion is final if it has been
 finally determined on appeal to the appropriate court of the
 United States, if all time for filing such an appeal with
 respect to the finding or conclusion has expired, or if the
 finding or conclusion is not subject to judicial review.
   (e) Award to Private Plaintiff.--
   (1) Government action.--If the Government proceeds with an
 action brought by a person under subsection (c), such person
 shall, subject to the second sentence of this paragraph,
 receive at least 15 percent but not more than 25 percent of
 the proceeds of the action or settlement of the claim,
 depending upon the extent to which the person substantially
 contributed to the prosecution of the action.
   (2) No government action.--If the Government does not
 proceed with an action under this section, the person
 bringing the action or settling the claim shall receive an
 amount which the court decides is reasonable for collecting
 the civil penalty and damages. The amount shall be not less
 than 25 percent and not more than 30 percent of the proceeds
 of the action or settlement and shall be paid out of such
 proceeds. Such person shall also receive an amount for
 reasonable expenses which the court finds to have been
 necessarily incurred, plus reasonable attorneys' fees and
 costs. All such expenses, fees, and costs shall be awarded
 against the defendant.
   (3) Frivolous claim.--If the Government does not proceed
 with the action and the person bringing the action conducts
 the action, the court may award to the defendant its
 reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses if the defendant
 prevails in the action and the court finds that the claim of
 the person bringing the action was clearly frivolous, clearly
 vexatious, or brought primarily for purposes of harassment.
   (f) Government Not Liable for Certain Expenses.--The
 Government is not liable for expenses which a person incurs
 in bringing an action under this section.
   (g) Fees and Expenses to Prevailing Defendant.--In civil
 actions brought under this section by the United States, the
 provisions of section 2412 (d) of title 28 shall apply.
   (h) Whistleblower Protection.--
   (1) In general.--Any employee who is discharged, demoted,
 suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner
 discriminated against in the terms and conditions of
 employment by his or her employer because of lawful acts done
 by the employee on behalf of the employee or others in
 furtherance of an action under this section, including
 investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or
 assistance in an action filed or to be filed under this
 section, shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make
 the employee whole.
   (2) Relief.--Relief under this subsection shall include
 reinstatement with the same seniority status such employee
 would have had but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount
 of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for
 any special damages sustained as a result of the
 discrimination, including litigation costs and reasonable
 attorneys' fees. An employee may bring an action in the
 appropriate district court of the United States for the
 relief provided in this subsection.

 SEC. 5. JUDICIAL NOTICE.

   The courts of the United States shall take cognizance and
 notice of any legal decision of the Government Accountability
 Office interpreting the application of this Act.

 SEC. 6. POINT OF ORDER.

   (a) In General.--
   (1) Reduction of salary.--It shall not be in order in the
 House of Representatives or the Senate to consider a bill,
 amendment, or resolution providing an appropriation for an
 agency that the Government Accountability

[[Page S898]]

 Office has found in violation of this Act unless the
 appropriations for salary and expenses for the head of the
 relevant agency contains a provision reducing the salary of
 the head by an amount equal to the illegal expenditure
 identified by the Government Accountability Office. If the
 illegal expenditure exceeds the annual salary of the agency
 head, then the point of order shall continue until the
 remaining amount is subtracted from the salary of the agency
 head.
   (2) Compliance.--Paragraph (1) shall not apply if the
 agency is complying with the decision of the Government
 Accountability Office.
   (b) Supermajority Waiver and Appeal.--This section may be
 waived or suspended in the Senate only by an affirmative vote
 of \3/5\ of the Members, duly chosen and sworn. An
 affirmative vote of \3/5\ of the Members of the Senate, duly
 chosen and sworn, shall be required in the Senate to sustain
 an appeal of the ruling of the Chair on a point of order
 raised under this section.


  Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, we have to stop right now all
the taxpayer-financed propaganda put out by our government to
influence the American people. We need to expedite the
investigations, begin congressional hearings, and pass
specific new legislation to prevent the administration from
using persons paid to pose as legitimate journalists to push
for the Bush political agenda.

  Last week, we found out, according to the Washington Post,
that another commentator, Maggie Gallagher, was paid $21,500
by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the
Bush administration's marriage agenda--a fact she didn't
disclose to her readers while writing on the issue.

  As most of us now know, thanks to USA Today, the outgoing
leadership of the Education Department secretly, and still
unapologetically, paid $241,000 to commentator Armstrong
Williams to influence his broadcasts. Mr. Williams was paid
to comment favorably on the President's No Child Left Behind
Act education reform plan, to conduct phony "interviews" with
administration officials, and to encourage his colleagues in
the media to do the same.

  The Gallagher and Williams payments were part of a
multimillion dollar, taxpayer-funded public relations scheme
to influence and undermine America's free press. Journalists
were ranked on the favorability of their news coverage of
President Bush on education. Phony video reports and
interviews about the President's Medicare prescription drug
law were broadcast as independent news on local television.

  All parties agree that this type of secret government paid
journalism is wrong. Yet Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Williams
continue to retain their $21,500 and $241,000 bribes.

  I am pleased to join Senator Lautenberg, who has been our
leader on this issue, in introducing legislation to
permanently prohibit the  use of taxpayer funds for the type
of manipulative payments that Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Williams
received. Our legislation will prohibit agencies from issuing
news releases, video news releases, and  internet messages
that do not clearly identify the government as financially
responsible for the information.

  It will enforce these prohibitions by creating a mechanism
to dock the pay of any Cabinet Secretary or agency head
responsible, and by authorizing private citizens to bring a
court action to recover taxpayer funds.

  Propaganda by the Department of Health and Human Services,
the Department of Education, and the Office of Drug Control
and Policy has to stop now, before the infection spreads. We
cannot sit still in Congress while the administration
corrupts the first amendment and freedom of the press.


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