Take the Money and Talk: Top Health Care Policy Analyst Declined to Disclose Administration Consulting Fees


Here's one way to get rich off of ObamaCare: Take nearly $400,000 from the administration's Health and Human Services Department to consult on health care reform, don't bother to mention this to anyone, and then offer up your opinions as a prominent analyst and advocate for the administration's health care plans.

According to federal disclosure forms, starting in March of 2009, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber took $392,000 in fees from HHS to consult on "the estimated changes in health insurance coverage and associated costs and impacts to the government under alternative specifications of health system reform." At the same time, he served as one of the most prominent academic analysts and advocates for health care reform, providing putatively unbiased interviews and analysis to Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic, and Ron Brownstein at The Atlantic (among others) without disclosing his consulting fees.

Gruber's defense is that, well, no one ever asked. But it's absurd to think that it's a journalist's responsibly to check specifically for every possible conflict of interest, and Gruber, as a respected public policy voice, should have known better. Klein, Cohn, and Brownstein, all of whom support health care reform, have now said that while they don't believe that Gruber is anything close to an unreliable shill or a flack, they do think their readers should have been made aware that Gruber was in the pay of the administration.

That sounds about right. Gruber, who helped design the Massachusetts health care system, is a true believer in the cover-'em-all, mandates-n-regulations brand of health care reform, so it's likely that he still would've supported Democratic reform proposals no matter what. But even still, money — especially that kind of money — has a way of subtly shaping people's ideas and opinions, and of checking the criticisms that one is willing to make publicly. As Megan McArdle (here's my own disclosure — she's my fiancée!) writes:

I am sure that what Gruber is saying comports with what he believes. [But] my guess is that like me, most journalists would have treated him as an employee of the administration, with all the constraints that implies, rather than passing along his pronouncements as the thoughts of an independent academic.  Christina Romer is a very, very fine economist.  But her statements about administration policy are treated differently from statements by, say, her colleague Brad De Long.

I don't have any problem with Gruber taking the money or doing the consulting, and his work should be judged on its merits rather than its funding. But given his role as a public advocate and analyst, and given the especially high standard to which governments should be held when it comes to transparency, the payments should've been disclosed.

Of course, Gruber isn't the first public figure to take money from an administration and then proceed to sell its ideas: Remember Armstrong Williams, the journalist who took $240,000 from the Bush administration to help promote education reform? How about Maggie Gallagher, the gay-marriage basher who took $20,000 from the Bushies to write a report on how the government can strengthen gay traditional marriage? Disclosure issues aside, Gruber's work strikes me as more legitimate; despite my disagreements with the ideas he favors, I will readily concede that he's a legitimate expert on modeling the effects of health care policy, which is very, very difficult. But he should have been more up front about the fact that he was getting paid by the administration for that expertise when speaking to the media as an impartial source.

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  1. How about Maggie Galagher, the gay-marriage basher who took $20,000 from the Bushies to write a report on how the government can strengthen gay marriage?

    Whoa, who knew Maggie turned over a new leaf?

  2. My suspicion that Suderman only writes articles to tell people he’s marrying McArdle are again reinforced.

    1. Let’s threadjack and completely pan McArdle’s looks.

      1. And intelligence.

        1. And libertarian cred.

          1. They’ll just delete your comments like poor Bukakinator’s.

            1. Just yours, BSJ.

            2. You mean Bukarin, the old Soviet hack.

              1. No, I mean the Bukakinator.

          2. And hygiene.

          3. At least as much as Bill Maher.Not quite Brink Lindsey territory.

        2. Dumb as a rock.

      2. Just because your romantic life consists of preying on Warty’s scraps is no reason to be petty.

        “You been humping these chicks when I’m done with them?”

      3. She’s a hottie.

    2. To clarify: I was just making a joke. I’d noticed several instances where he’d mentioned and it was a civil jest. Please don’t black bag my family.

  3. the payments should’ve been disclosed


    They should have been found out and revealed by the first journalist who ever talke to him, and the story should have been about that.

    “It’s absurd to think” shouldn’t be journalism’s motto. Lazy asskissing pricks.

    1. Actually, it would depend on who origanally “presented” this highly educated toecheese to the first reporter. Depending on the creds of the presenter would tell me if I need to make the time to do a background check.

      Of course, we all can guess that if this person was from the WH, and the first reporters were those of the **ahem** progressive MSM, then the creds were fine as given. No need to check on the hens when the fox says everything’s cool, right? AND, once you’re past the first reporter’s smell test the only people you need to avoid are your idealogical opposites.

    2. With today’s journalism in America for the most part being a competition to win hearts and minds over to the individual journalists chosen team, to refer to them as “Lazy asskissing pricks” seems a little unappreciative and inaccurate. They aren’t all “pricks” some are cunts, and whether they choose team D or team R, most take their asskissing very seriously, really going that extra mile, forging documents, fabricating events, inventing fictitious witnesses, whatever it takes to get their eager donut shaped mouths firmly planted on the ol’ browneye for some serious high-energy asskissing.. Sure a few are lazy, and a few are even journalists. Suderman makes a valid point “the payments should have been disclosed” if for no other reason than we were promised the most ethical and transparent Administration and Congress in history.

  4. Well, then, the bills have to be tossed out of Congress, due to obvious conflicts of interest.

  5. So are Reason and The Atlantic going to keep double dipping on McSuderman paychecks? 🙂

  6. The real question is who will be liveblogging the Suderman/McArdle nuptials.

    1. Both. Dur.

    2. Andrew Sullivan. Duh.

      1. Homophobe.

        1. Phobohome.

            1. Morbophone.

  7. Apropos of nothing: we have a Partnership for a Drug-Free America banner ad. Ew.

    1. As long as they are paying standard advertising rates it ain’t my business.

      But it is entertaining to see the way some ads relate to the topics they show up at. (I believe there is something strange about the grammar here, but it’s not enough for me to do it over.)

      And yeh… eww.

    2. They come up a lot. Often on Sullum’s threads. I like the irony, especially when I’m medicated.

      1. Bring on the dot girls. Dating, marriage, matrimony.

    3. I savor the delicious irony of PDFA wasting their money here.

      BTW, WTF is up with that Newport Academy for Girls (teen detox mansion) ad I just got? Somehow I suspect Warty is involved…

      1. Jail bait, Wart! Jail bait!

        1. Sweeten the pot for the Wartster: Jailbait.

  8. At least he didn’t take money from Enron.

    1. How do you know?

  9. But even still, money ? especially that kind of money ? has a way of subtly shaping people’s ideas and opinions, and of checking the criticisms that one is willing to make publicly.

    Even if it doesn’t “shape his ideas and opinions” he’s in the employ of the administration. That would be like having Hillary Clinton on to get hard hitting, independent analysis of what the State Department needs to do.

    It’s not wrong that Hillary might be asked about State Department policy, but we know that she heads up the State Department.

    In Grubers’ case, it’s not even the money. It’s just the fact that he is a defacto administration employee. We know what the Obama administration thinks… so why would I read an article in the WaPo to find out what an independent analyst thinks when they’re all Administration employees?

    1. Paul, to answer your last question first, I don’t know about you, and I know it ain’t so about me, but most of the Blue Crested Progressive Parrots read WaPoo to get their talking points.

      Now, while I totally agree that this toecheese should have revealed his entire CV, he was NOT an employee of the gov’t. He was an Independent Contractor, and there is a big diff. I spent years as an indy. An employee gets benis and little things like taxes and FICA are withheld, making life a wee bit easier (not much, but some). (Actually, now that I think about it, either way one is required to eat some sort of crap sandwich served with the paycheck. But as an indy, I never had to eat more than 1 from someone I fundamentally disagreed with.)

  10. Ah, but don’t you know? The source of one’s income only matters if you’re opposing The Great Obamessiah. If you’re on his team it’s all good.

  11. It seems to me that one of the following must be true:

    1) Gruber had to hire assistants to perform much of this consulting work.

    2) Gruber’s work, for a part-time job, for less than a year, is worth almost $400,000.

    3) Or Gruber was really acting in large part as a paid shill.

    Anyone, please inform us if you know the extent to which any of the above is true.

  12. It’s the Chicago way — get EVERYBODY on the government payroll.

  13. So much moralizing. Can’t we just accept that no one is unbiased and that everyone has an agenda? What type of people step into the political sphere? Did you really need to see the money move to catch this?

    1. Only problem is we aren’t discussing everyone, only those who swore an oath entering into a binding contract with us. Are we to exempt them from their contractual obligations because of poor performance by others before them, or because they knew their only intention all along was to disregard their obligations and do as they pleased? Is it a matter of morality to understand without a common set of rules we have a free for all. Once an individual, or group, is exempted, no one can rightfully be expected to comply. Those entering the political sphere by word or pen stroke can make even the most powerful WMDs seem wimpy by comparison. More than anyone they need to be held accountable.

  14. Obama = crookcountykleptocracy&cronies;

  15. As Megan McArdle (here’s my own disclosure ? she’s my fianc?e!) writes:

    If we regulars threw Suderman a bachelor could you imagine? He would never forget it, but then again, he would never be able to look her in the eye ever again.

    The real question is who will be liveblogging the Suderman/McArdle nuptials.

    Or, as a wedding present, we could rewrite the Ballad of Eskimo Nell for the lovely couple.


    Piss Pot Pete Suderman,
    Rubbed his pecker up against a fan . . .

    1. If we regulars threw Suderman a bachelor party could you imagine?

      You know what, it works either way.

  16. Jonathan Gruber == shill

    wait. == whore? well, at least
    == shill.

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