U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be breaking federal law by raising money and working with private groups to help roll out the federal health care law “outside of the government,” according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
“Secretary Sebelius’ fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress,” Alexander said.
The ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy, Alexander likened Sebelius’ actions to the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. That erupted when it was discovered that a Reagan administration official, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, sold arms to Iran and sent some of the money through private groups to arm Nicaraguan rebels after Congress refused to appropriate funds for that purpose.
“Only the Congress has the authority to appropriate money,” Alexander told reporters in Nashville. “And when the secretary seeks to do things outside of the government, which Congress refuses to do, the Constitution doesn’t permit [it] and the federal law makes it illegal.”
Alexander cited a Washington Post article from last week. The Post reported Sebelius was asking health industry executives, community organizations and church groups to assist groups like Enroll America, a nonprofit coalition working to ensure Americans get enrolled for coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Asked for comment, HHS spokesman Jason Young said in an email to the Times Free Press on Saturday that the practice is legal. He emphasized that “the Secretary has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”
“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, Young said, Sebelius “has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve. We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work.”
Note: Alexander’s press release is below.
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander:
NASHVILLE, May 11–U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander said today that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s fundraising and coordinating with private entities to implement the new health care law “may be illegal.”
Alexander, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate committee overseeing health policy, compared Sebelius’s activities to the Iran-Contra incident when Reagan administration official Oliver North raised funds and directed their spending through private entities in support of Nicaraguan rebels even though Congress had refused to appropriate funds.
“If the secretary or others in her department are fundraising and coordinating the activities of Enroll America and soliciting donations to supplement appropriated funds, then those actions may be in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act,” the senator said.
The senator cited a report by the Iran-Contra Congressional Joint Select Committee, which said that “Congress’s exclusive control over the expenditure of funds cannot legally be evaded through the use of gifts or donations to the executive branch. Were it otherwise, a president whose appropriation request were rejected by Congress could raise money through private sources or from other countries for armies, military actions, arms systems or even domestic programs” (Iran Contra Joint Select Committee Report [Sen. Rep No., 100-216] at pages 412-413).
Alexander also said that the secretary’s activities may violate federal laws prohibiting raising private funds from those she regulates.
Friday, the Washington Post reported that Secretary Sebelius “has gone, hat in hand, to health industry executives, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law.”
The article said that the “unusual fundraising push comes after Congress has repeatedly rejected the administration’s requests for additional funds to set up the Affordable Care Act.” The article said many of the secretary’s calls have recruited support for Enroll America, described as “the most prominent nonprofit working on the health care law’s implementation,” whose “president, Anne Filipic, joined the group in January after service as White House deputy director for public engagement.”
Alexander’s complete statement follows:
Secretary Sebelius’s fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress.
Such private fundraising circumvents the constitutional requirement that only Congress may appropriate funds. If the secretary or others in her department are closely coordinating the activities of Enroll America, which is headed by a former White House aide, then those actions may be in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act.
The limits of the Anti-Deficiency Act were fully explored by Congress during the Iran-Contra incident when Reagan administration official Oliver North raised funds and directed their spending through private entities in support of Nicaraguan rebels even though Congress had refused to appropriate such funds.
The report of the Congressional Iran-Contra Joint Select Committee (Sen. Rep No., 100-216) at page 413 said, “The constitutional plan does not prohibit the President from urging other countries to give money directly to the Contras. But the Constitution does prohibit receipt and collection of such funds by this government absent an appropriation. This prohibition may not be evaded by use of a nominally private entity, if the entity is in reality an arm of the government and the government is able to direct how the money is spent.”
The report also said: “Congress’s exclusive control over the expenditure of funds cannot legally be evaded through the use of gifts or donations to the executive branch. Were it otherwise, a president whose appropriation requests were rejected by Congress could raise money through private sources or from other countries for armies, military actions, arms systems or even domestic programs” (Iran-Contra Joint Select Committee Report at pages 412-413).
Friday, the Washington Post reported that the secretary’s spokesman said that Sebelius is working with private entities on “our mission” of implementing health care law activities, although Congress has refused to appropriate more funds. If the Department of Health and Human Services closely coordinates with Enroll America and with other such entities, then the legal analogy with Iran-Contra is strong.
In addition, the secretary’s fundraising activities may violate federal laws prohibiting raising private funds from those she regulates. Federal law permits a narrow band of private fundraising activity but this has always been interpreted very narrowly. For example, it is permissible for the secretary to be the Honorary Co-Chair of the annual Heart Ball; it is not permissible for her to solicit personally a contribution from a hospital company for the ball.