Porter Novelli, a public relations and lobbying firm, was awarded a $20 million contract from the Obama administration to promote health reform. “The campaign will inform the American people about the many preventive benefits now available to those with Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” a representative from the Department of Health & Human Services told PR Week, which broke the news.
Porter Novelli, for those who followed the health reform debate, might be an odd choice to help promote the law. As I reported for ThinkProgress in 2009, the global head of Porter Novelli’s healthcare division manufactured a front group designed to kill public support for health reform. Peter Pitts, soon after being hired by Porter Novelli in two years ago, launched various Tea Party and conspiracy-laced attacks on the Affordable Care Act as the legislation made its way through Congress:
– CMPI launched a website called “Hands off my Health” showcasing the supposed horrors of universal healthcare programs in Canada and the UK. CMPI officials centered a media campaign around Shona Robertson-Holmes, claiming she had a brain tumor the Canadian system refused to treat. However, the Ottawa Citizen reported that CMPI has been exaggerating Holmes’ case, and that she in fact had a benign cyst.
– CMPI helped sponsor anti-Obama tea party protests. [...]
The head of CMPI, Peter Pitts — a former Bush administration FDA communications official and director of marketing at the Washington Times — has a long history of using his CMPI title to hawk the interests of corporate clients. The Bioethics Forum has noted that CMPI, which receives drug company money, aggressively defends almost any practice of the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, as Slate reported, Pitts appeared on an NPR special to downplay fears about the side effects of antidepressants like Prozac, but failed to disclose his position as a VP of the PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee, which at the time represented Eli Lilly Inc. (the maker of Prozac), GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer.
In March of this year, Pitts became the head of international corporate PR firm Porter Novelli’s healthcare division. Despite the fact that CMPI’s latest 990 tax form states that Pitts spends 40 hours a week at CMPI, a representative from Porter Novelli told ThinkProgress that Pitts actually works on a day to day basis in his office at Porter Novelli. Asked about how the firm engages in the health reform debate, ThinkProgress was told by Porter Novelli that Pitts is “pretty much our voice.” Porter Novelli specializes in using social networking and other stealth marketing techniques to help drug companies avoid FDA regulations on marketing pharmaceutical products. Since Pitts joined Porter Novelli, CMPI has continued to shill for drug companies.
Read the rest of the story about Peter Pitts and his front group here. A representative from Porter Novelli informed Republic Report today that Pitts is no longer with the firm.
Of course, the Obama administration has every right to hire outside help to promote the law. But if Porter Novelli’s prior involvement in spreading industry-funded attacks against the law isn’t a problem, there are other potential conflicts of interest. According a press release, Porter Novelli still maintains a number of healthcare clients, including Bayer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Eisai and Pfizer.
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