- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

Two key senators on the Appropriations Committee are demanding that the Education Department turn over records for any public relations contracts it has and that it investigate its contract with conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, who was paid to promote President Bush’s education policies.

“Given our jurisdiction over the funds involved, we would appreciate your careful review of the contract with Ketchum and the payment made to Mr. Williams,” wrote Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.

Meanwhile, a member of the Federal Communications Commission asked his agency to look into whether Mr. Williams broke the law by failing to disclose his $240,000 contract to sell the merits of the administration’s No Child Left Behind law to minority audiences.

Mr. Williams, a prominent black conservative, apologized after the arrangement was revealed in USA Today this week.

“I’ve never had a government contract before. This is a learning curve for me, but I’m willing to step up to the plate and raise my standards,” he told The Washington Times earlier this week.

Outgoing Education Secretary Rod Paige said he has ordered an inspector general to investigate the department’s contract with Ketchum, a public relations firm that paid Mr. Armstrong. In addition to promoting No Child Left Behind, the contract called for Mr. Williams to provide media access for Mr. Paige.

The department investigation is one of many.

Democratic leaders in the House have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether the Bush administration has signed other similar public relations contracts.

The Democrats said the Williams issue is part of a pattern of propaganda from the administration, citing two previous GAO reports faulting the Health and Human Services Department and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for creating false news reports to be used as public service announcements.

“The federal use of covert propaganda is unethical, damaging to our democracy and open society, and, as you know, illegal,” the Democrats wrote to the GAO.

Mr. Harkin said he will introduce a bill requiring federal agencies to report their advertising budgets to Congress, and to state on any ads bought that they were funded with taxpayers’ money.

He also urged the administration to reclaim the money paid to Ketchum to promote No Child Left Behind.

Meanwhile, at an FCC meeting yesterday, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said the agency had received about a dozen complaints concerning the Williams arrangement.

“I certainly hope the FCC will take action and fully investigate whether any laws have been broken,” Mr. Adelstein said.

Mr. Paige said the public money went solely for ads in which he described the law.

“All of this has been reviewed and is legal,” he said. “However, I am sorry that there are perceptions and allegations of ethical lapses.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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