Bipartisan senators launch inquiry into Obama's PR spending

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is pursued by reporters as he turns into a restricted corridor in the Capitol for closed-door talks with fellow Republican members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011.
Rob Portman
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is launching an investigation with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., into the Obama administration's public relations spending.

Citing reports of "questionable" uses of taxpayer funds, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio this week launched an investigation into the Obama administration's public relations and advertising expenses.

Portman launched the investigation in conjunction with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat in a government oversight subpanel in the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Portman is the top Republican in the subpanel.

Portman and McCaskill sent letters to 11 federal agencies requesting information regarding all contracts they've entered into since October 1, 2008, relating to public relations, publicity, advertising, communications or other related services.

"Over the past three years, we have seen some reports of questionable uses of taxpayer dollars on public relations to promote the administration's agenda," Portman said in a statement to Hotsheet. "This subcommittee investigation will dig deeper and fulfill our responsibility to police waste and abuse in the federal government."

Portman's office pointed to findings from the House Oversight Committee and the conservative group Judicial Watch that suggested the administration has wasted federal funds on public relations.

It's not uncommon for agencies to spend on public relations, nor is it uncommon for those expenditures to be subject to investigation. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office conducted a review of government public relations contracts and found that the largest federal departments reported a total of 343 media contracts at a cost of $1.62 billion.

McCaskill's office characterized the new investigation as more of an "inquiry" focused on collecting information.

The Democratic senator is currently in a tough battle for re-election and has tried to distance herself from the Obama administration to a certain degree, but McCaskill's office told Roll Call that the investigation she's conducting with Portman is not about politics.

"For Claire, good government is not a partisan thing," McCaskill spokesman Trevor Kincaid said.