Even in a divided Washington, everyone agrees on the importance of creating jobs in America. So why are some government agencies using taxpayer money to lobby against some food manufacturers?
At least one lawmaker, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) thinks it’s time government officials stopped using taxpayer money to run smear campaigns against the makers of lawfully produced goods that consumers want. On April 15, Rep. Schock introduced the Stopping Taxpayer Outlays for Propaganda Act (STOP) Act (H.R. 1572), which would prohibit the use of federal funds for advertising and media campaigns to discourage consumption of any food or beverage that is lawfully marketed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In a Politico op-ed this week, Schock explains that in this time of economic stress, using taxpayer money to harm American industry doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Not only do these government-funded campaigns harm American businesses, they are doing nothing to improve Americans’ health — and may even cause harm in some cases. Government is simply not very good at determining what is best or healthy for each individual. Studies funded by government grants are often cited by legislators to promote one-size-fits-all policies that fail to take into account a person’s health risks or specific dietary needs. Yet many such studies are based on limited data that often result in incorrect conclusions.
For example, as I pointed out in an article for Real Clear Policy, a recently published study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol resulted in a slightly increased risk for certain cancers. The authors thus came to the conclusion that no level of alcohol consumption is safe when it comes to cancer risk. Without getting into the questionable validity of the study itself, the major failing on the part of the authors was their failure to take into consideration the proven health benefits of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption when prescribing total abstinence. Even if moderate drinking slightly increased a woman’s risk of breast cancer, moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to significantly reduce a person’s risk of heart disease — a leading cause of death in America.
Lawmakers and self-styled public health advocates often cite government-funded studies like this to promote supposedly healthy lifestyle choices and regulatory changes, including higher taxes on politically disfavored products and increased grants for health programs and studies. As my colleague Angela Logomasini documented after attending the Alcohol Policy 16 conference, government money begets more government money.
The conference, held in Arlington, Virginia, earlier this month, was partially funded by taxpayer money and was clearly oriented around teaching attendees how to, as Angela notes, “mobilize nanny-state activists to push taxes and regulations that limit access to alcohol,” and give them pointers about “how to effectively lobby and advocate for alcohol regulations of any kind, including preventing alcohol at public events.” She notes that at one panel on alcohol taxes, “[T]hese ‘public health advocates’ discussed ways to hike the rates as much as possible and earmark the funds to their own organizations.”
The real focus of this event, apparently, was not on how to improve public health, but on how to effectively take away consumers’ freedom to buy alcoholic beverages and punish alcohol-related businesses — small and large. Yet it is funded at least in part by our tax dollars and has the backing of divisions within the NIH: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
It doesn’t just stop with legal (if not distasteful) wastes of taxpayer money. An investigative report released on April 16 by the government watchdog group Cause of Action found that CDC officials encouraged recipients of grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill) to use the funds illegally to lobby state and local governments to support anti-obesity and anti-tobacco measures, including tax hikes. This, according to the report, violates at least four federal laws and regulations, including the federal Anti-Lobbying Act which “prohibits the use of money appropriated by Congress to influence, ‘an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.’”
As Phil Kerpen of American Commitment wrote on this subject, “[T]his is a big deal because the program did not end with the stimulus, but was made permanent under Obamacare as the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a $10 billion slush fund available for grant-making without a vote of Congress.” And, as Kerpen points out, rather reprimanding corruption within his own administration, it seems the president is making an attempt to remove prohibitions against taxpayer money being used in this way:
Perhaps most shockingly, instead of prosecuting wrongdoing and rooting our corruption, the Obama administration is actually proposing weakening the legal protections against our federal tax dollars being used to restrict our freedom and raise our taxes at the local level.
Buried in the appendix to his recently released budget is a proposal from President Obama to delete Section 503(c) that limits how funds transferred under Obamacare can be spent. This is what Obama wants to strike:
(c) The prohibitions in subsections (a) and (b) shall include any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future Federal, State or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including but not limited to the advocacy or promotion of gun control.
Hopefully, there are enough lawmakers who understand that health depends on people’s ability to take responsibility for their own decisions — to make healthy choices regarding exercise and the foods they eat. To that end, the marketplace of ideas is the proper place for health advocates to make their case against certain foods or for certain activities they consider unhealthy. But they should not be allowed to use taxpayer money to do so.