WASHINGTON — A now-canceled $250 million anti-coronavirus ad campaign by the Trump administration was so politically motivated it screened possible celebrity spokespeople based on their support for the president and their liberal ideology, according to documents released Thursday by the House Oversight Committee.
The campaign has been shelved while the Department of Health and Human Services reviews allegations of impropriety linked to the effort.
But a “PSA Celebrity Tracker” document released by the committee that was updated as recently as Oct. 23 lists some 274 celebrities who were considered for inclusion.
It notes not just the usual red flags such as run-ins with the law, but also the political leanings of the potential high-profile participants, including how they feel about President Donald Trump.
For instance, Jennifer Lopez “Made a political statement during her Super Bowl performance to address Trump’s immigration policies.”
Beyonce “Has a net rating of 63% favorable among Democrats and -3% among (Republicans).”
Russell Simmons was “Accused of sexual assault by 20 women; stated that Trump is the epitome of white supremacy.”
Jack Black “Used his Hollywood Walk of Fame star ceremony to speak out against Trump in 2018,” and was “known to be a classic Hollywood Liberal,” according to the document.
Sarah Silverman is a “Liberal Democrat; supports gay marriage and is an environmentalist and animal rights activist.”
Margaret Cho is an “Open Bernie and Hillary supporter; accused Trump and Ted Cruz of being guilty of sexism, homophobia, and racism.”
Billie Eilish “Made a political statement on gun control in 2019; will be a first-time voter in 2020,” and is “not a Trump supporter, stated he ‘is destroying our country and everything we care about.’”
The vetting list even included actor Alec Baldwin, but seems to have missed his well-known brutal Trump impersonations, saying Baldwin was a “maybe,” but he was “Interested but having a baby in a few weeks; Arrested in 2018 due to assault; Democrat and endorsed Obama in his two presidential campaigns, serves on the board of People for the American Way; animal rights activist.”
The list was prepared by one of the contractors in the project, and does not seem to have disqualified the celebs from being considered. But officials in the administration appear to have put the kibosh on one who agreed to participate, but had panned Trump — comedian George Lopez.
According to planning notes from Sept. 29, the Lopez PSA was “Not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the President.”
Among those who did make the cut were J.Lo’s ex, Mark Anthony, Dennis Quaid, gospel great CeCe Winans, and Hasidic singer Shulem Lemmer.
The effort was spearheaded by Trump political appointee and Buffalo, New York, businessman Michael Caputo. Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, took a leave of absence after infamously warning of armed insurrection and ranting about “sedition” among government scientists in a Facebook live video last month. He has since undergone surgery for head and neck cancer.
The Oversight Committee launched the probe after Politico revealed at the end of August that HHS was launching the pre-election campaign to “defeat despair and inspire hope.”
Among the items the committee is examining is whether part of the contract was improperly steered to a friend of Caputo’s.
According to the committee, HHS has not provided any documents in the investigation. Instead, the investigators have relied on information from the contractors. Emails that were provided appear to show career officials in the government raised serious objections to the Trump-glorifying effort, but were overruled.
“The documents we have obtained indicate that HHS political appointees sought to use taxpayer dollars to advance a partisan political agenda and direct taxpayer money to their friends and allies,” says a letter to Health Secretary Alex Azar, signed by Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the oversight committee’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.
HHS did not immediately answer a request for comment, but Azar told Congress at a hearing earlier this month that he had “ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes.”
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