Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wanted: Free Lance Writer. Must Be Scruple Free

OK, what we want to know is where do we sign up for this job? We all know about Armstrong Williams but it appears he was just one employee in the whole PR project and we want in on the action. We'd post our resume, but any government recruiters out there should already know we have the primary qualification: If you pay us enough money we'll say anything you want.

Federal investigators probing the Education Department's public relations contracts have found a pattern of deals in which ethics challenged organizations received money totaling nearly $4.7 million to promote the Bush administration's gut public education scheme, but didn't disclose that they received taxpayer funds, as required by law.

"Well, 'disclose,' that's a vague word," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "I mean, we all knew about it here, so that's a sort of disclosure, don't you think? Besides, this is all Paige's fault since he's not here, I mean since he was in charge then."

The report, said the department needs to do a better job monitoring how millions of dollars in grants are spent. More than $1.7 million, for example, went to outside public relations contracts that officials said resulted in no visible media products. "That's not true," McClellan argued. "Some of that money went to those thinking good thoughts about us. We're out to change the karma you know."

Inspector General John Higgins found that in 10 of 11 cases examined, groups didn't disclose — in print, on radio or in other media, such as brochures or handbooks that taxpayer funds were used. "We're on top of that," McClellan explained. "We're looking for that 11th case right now."

Higgins' report cites several examples of taxpayer-funded groups publishing opinion-page newspaper articles or other media without disclosing their federal grants. Among them: $1.3 million over three years to the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "The Alliance produced a 'multi layered media campaign,' or as we call it, a quarter page ad in the Weekly Advertiser," said Higgins

Also reported were two unsolicited grants, totaling $900,000, in 2003 and 2004, to the Hispanic Council for Reform and Education Options. "Funny story there," said McClellan. "When we first approached those people they told us to get lost. Said they didn't want to be involved with an administration that was callously using poor and minority children to further our plan to gut public schools. Then we doubled the offer and they saw the light. That's why the grant was 'unsolicited.' They insisted on that characterization. It was an ethics thing with them."

Another $1.6 million was given to to ZGS Communications, for which officials couldn't fully account. A spokesperson for ZGS said he was sure the money was "here somewhere. We just hired a new cleaning service and they moved everything around."

$2,650 was awarded to North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS), which produced what amounted to a 284-word infomercial. "Yeah but they were big words," said Cyndi DePalatrono, PR Vice President for the Syndicate.

Wow. $2,650 for 284 words. That's $9.34 a word. At that rate our blog entry would bring in $4819.44. Woo Hoo! No more off brand vodka.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' response, filed with the report, agreed with most of the investigators' findings. Yeah Yeah. Got caught. Do the right thing. Blah blah. Hey Margaret. Call us.

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