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Study Details $1.6B in Govt. Ad/PR Spending

The administration has spent $1.6 billion on advertising and public relations since 2003, including on everything from video news releases to embroidered bowling bags.

That's according to a Government Accountability Office study of government spending on advertising and public relations released by a California-heavy group of Democrats Monday. Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi, both California, were among the Senators releasing the report and criticizing its findings

The report was called for by Democrats and prompted by revelations about payments to conservative broadcaster Armstrong William to plug the Department of Education's No Child Left Behind policy on-air.

Ad agencies got the lion's share of the dollars at $1.4 billion, with PR firms getting $197 million and  media companies $15 million, and individual members of the media $100,000.

Some of the findings:

•There were fourteen contracts for video news releases worth a total $1.4 million.

•The Air Force spent $179 million for recruitment advertising, $10,152 for Coke-themed giveaways including portable radios, T-shirts, hats, and coolers, and $35,000 for golf-related items including embroidered golf towels and tees; and $288 to embroider logos on bowling bags.

•Campaigns included pushing the administration view if the war on terror and warning of the dangers of importing prescription drugs from outside the country.

What the report did not say was how much similar agencies in other administrations have paid for advertising and promotion over comparable periods, although Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), one of the administration's strongest critics on the issue and ranking member of the Education committee, called the extent of the Bush administration's propaganda "unprecedented and disturbing."

The Democrats don't actually have a direct comparison to the study, which was self-reported data from seven of 15 cabinet level agencies over two and a half years. But an earlier study by the minority staff of the Government Reform Committee of just PR expenditures by the government found that they had risen from $37 million in 2001 to $88 million in 2004.

The top ad agency dollar-getters according to the GAO study, were Leo Burnett, $536 million; Campbell-Ewald, $194 million; GSD&M, $179 million; J Walter Thompson, $148 million; Frankel & Company, $133 million; and Ketchum Communications, $78 million.

The Defense Department spent the most at $1.1 billion. Health and Human Services was next at more than $300 million; followed by Treasury at $152 million; and Homeland Security at $24 million.

Another of  the key findings, according to the Democrats, was that $50 million (76 contracts) was allocated without competitive bids.

"The government is spending over a billion dollars per year on PR and advertising," said  Waxman in a statement. "Careful oversight of this spending is essential given the track record of the Bush Administration, which has used taxpayer dollars to fund covert propaganda within the United States."

Craig Aaron, communications director of media reform group Free Press, reacted to the report:

“We need a full accounting of the Bush administration's spending on advertising, PR and fake news. It's time for Congress to reclaim its constitutional role as a counterweight to the executive branch and permanently cut off funding for covert propaganda. We must ensure that taxpayer money isn't being spent by the White House to secretly manipulate the American public.”