Diocese of Pittsburgh Sues HHS Over Question of Influence of Lobbyists UPDATED

Image credit: Jeff Martin for The Washington Post

Remember back when the scandals were erupting from the grounds surrounding the IRS, the spying on the Associated Press, and the revelations learned from the Benghazi hearings?

Yes, seems like it was a quiet time, doesn’t it? A halcyon time before the veil was lifted on the abrogation of the 4th Amendment and the fact that your privacy is now not your own.

Lost among the tumult back then (less than two months ago, folks!) was the little noticed fact that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had been out fundraising for the Affordable Care Act.  At the time, I called it “The HHS Needs Money-Gate.”

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has questions about all the money grubbing going on too, and they wonder if it has anything to do with the intransigence of the Administration. So they filed a lawsuit.

CNS shares the following,

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jul 4, 2013 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has filed a lawsuit charging that the federal government created illegal barriers to its request for information about lobbyist influence on the HHS contraception mandate.

“We think there has been a wide variety of groups trying to influence the administration to keep the sterilization, contraception and abortion pill parts of the mandate,” Mickey Pohl, a lawyer for the diocese, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

He added that the diocese is “trying to find out what the communication has been back and forth to HHS, and the reason HHS is fighting religious organizations so hard not to change the preventative care mandate.”

The diocese’s lawsuit, filed in federal court July 1, says that federal officials at the Health and Human Services department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted $1.8 million and up to five years to respond to the attorney’s Freedom of Information Act request for the relevant records.

The demand came months after the attorney’s September 2012 request for information.

Officials later changed their fee to $25,000 in processing charges, though Pohl said the offer of a three-year timeline was still unacceptable.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh and the diocese’s Catholic Cemeteries Association.

Read the rest.

Closing “the Catholic gap” seems mighty important, as it might cut off sources of revenue for some otherwise very disinterested *cough* parties. Here’s a refresher from the story (from back in the news cycle Bronze Age, May 10, 2013) that was eclipsed by all the others.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said.
Her unusual fundraising push comes after Congress repeatedly rejected the Obama administration’s requests for additional funds to set up the Affordable Care Act, leaving HHS to implement the president’s signature legislative accomplishment on what officials have described as a shoestring budget.

Over the past three months, Sebelius has made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and asked that they contribute whatever they can to nonprofit groups that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law, according to an HHS official and an industry person familiar with the secretary’s activities. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk openly about private discussions.

An HHS spokesperson said Sebelius was within the bounds of her authority in asking for help.

But Republicans charged that Sebelius’s outreach was improper because it pressured private companies and other groups to support the Affordable Care Act. The latest controversy has emerged as the law faces a string of challenges from GOP lawmakers in Washington and skepticism from many state officials across the country.

“To solicit funds from health-care executives to help pay for the implementation of the President’s $2.6 trillion health spending law is absurd,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. “I will be seeking more information from the Administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law.”

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), when trying to compare the scope of Sebelius’s fundraising activites to something the rest of us could understand easily, came up with this analogy: Iran-Contra.

So Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff asked him some questions,

Sarah Kliff: You’ve been one of the first Republican senators to raise concerns about the secretary’s fundraising for Obamacare. What would you like to see happen next?

Lamar Alexander: I’d like for her to stop. One issue is if she’s raising money from the people she regulates. But I’m more concerned about her using private funding and private organizations to do what Congress has refused to do. I and other members of congress are going to ask GAO to look into the extent she’s coordinating with Enroll America or other organizations.
The reason I used the analogy to Iran-Contra scandal is this administration’s persistent thumbing of its nose at Article 1 of the Constitution because that made it very clear that the purpose of creating Congress is to curb executive power.

SK: I wanted to follow up on the Iran-Contra analogy. That seems like an awfully strong historical example to pick in this situation.

LA: This is arguably an even bigger issue because, in Iran-Contra, you had $30 million that was spent by Oliver North through private organizations for a purpose congress refused to authorize, in support of the rebels. Here, you’re wanting to spend millions more in support of private organizations to do something that Congress has refused.

Read more.

Sebelius responded to this assertion back in June, but now it looks the HHS Department will have the opportunity to respond to them in Federal Court as well.

Stay tuned.

 


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