This past week concerns have been raised over the Trump administration directing over $250 million dollars from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) towards an advertising campaign dubbed “Defeat Despair.”
According to the published HHS bids, the aim of the campaign is to “defeat despair and inspire hope, share best practices for businesses to operate in the new normal and instill confidence to return to work and restart the economy.”
The campaign will include statements from celebrities like Dr. Oz and CeCe Winans. The enormous contract was awarded to consumer marketing firm Fors Marsh Group, and they are expected to work with the administration through January as the campaign is rolled out.
Some have raised concerns that the “Defeat Despair” campaign was not conceived in good faith, and that the Trump administration will use it as an opportunity to bolster public image in the weeks before the election.
Unexpectedly, house Democrats have launched an investigation into the fund reallocation. In a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, specific examples were cited that indicate that the campaign may be partisan in nature.
In one such example, a senior advisor to the administration called on National Institutes of Health staff to “ensure Dr. Fauci indicates masks are for the teachers in schools. Not for children,” even though research clearly shows children can contract and transmit the coronavirus.
The Trump administration has historically tried to downplay the value of masks in minimizing coronavirus spread, and since this claim contradicts the scientific consensus, questions have been raised about why it is being mentioned in a national advertising effort in the first place.
More concerning, however, is the lack of demand for such a campaign. After hearing about the contract, some Americans were left wondering why funds are being directed towards defeating despair instead of the disease itself.
Perhaps the funding could have been used more effectively to raise public awareness about healthy practice. It is at best unclear since we have limited details at the moment.
The timing of the contract has also attracted the attention of former Obama-era HHS officials who oversaw the rollout of an even larger contract—the Obamacare enrollment website. They question why the “Defeat Despair” campaign is being launched just weeks before the election instead of in April at the height of public hysteria.
There is certainly nothing out of the norm about an administration using funds to raise public awareness, however, given the sitting president’s reputation, it is fair to expect some unsavory statements.
As of now, there has been no illegal use of taxpayer money to fund the re-election campaign, so it is important to wait for the concrete evidence before delivering judgement.
The campaign is expected to run from now through July 2021, with an optional year long extension following that. The bulk of the money is expected to be spent before January, so we definitely expect a heavy wave of ads in the next few weeks.