Jon Gruber doesn't understand transparency
by Jerome Armstrong, Fri Jan 08, 2010 at 06:44:09 PM EST
I read yesterday on FDL, about how Jon Gruber was being paid close to $400K over the past year by the Dept of HHS, but failed to disclose that he was a paid consultant, as he advocated for the administration's HCR. I was wondering what his response would be, and Ben Smith has it now.
This is a big deal, in the wider scheme of things, because a benchmark is being established. Gruber says he did nothing wrong. That he was being paid for technical services, and what he did as an advocate of the legislation was outside what he was getting paid for, so therefore his lack of transparency didn't matter. He's wrong, because that's not the way things work.
If a blogger is working on a campaign, and they are paying that blogger for technical services, and that person blogs advocacy in favor of that campaign's candidate, even on their own time and without any arrangement to do so, the blogger would be obligated to disclose the financial connection. That seems pretty commonsense. Now, that's the blogworld standard for bloggers interacting with campaigns, and if any difference exists, the standard for government employees and consultants should be even higher. Gruber needs to figure that out:
Gruber's explanation that "he disclosed this to reporters whenever they asked" is not very compelling. I don't see how anyone even tangentially connected to policy work could fail to realize that this was a material conflict of interest that should have been disclosed, and reporters cannot take up all their interview time going through all the sources who might have been paying or otherwise influencing their interviewee.
The standard is even higher for people who are taking public funds, and not only Professor Gruber, but the administration had a responsibility to disclose the relationship. Yet a post on the OMB blog signed by Peter Orszag cited Brownstein's Gruber quotes without mentioning the relationship.
There is nothing "completely consistent" at all with Gruber's actions, except that he consistenty lacked transparency. Gruber places the blame, and responsibility, not with himself, but with reporters (even there he lacks consistency). That's deception, not an ethical standard.
At least Armstrong Williams had the honesty to admit his bad judgement-- something lacking with Gruber.
Back to the wider picture now. An advocacy of transparancy as wide as feasible, for those taking government money, is the goal.
Since I am making this sort of swipe, I feel a bit compelled to talk about my own experience in this realm. I was widely smeared, when a former staffer of the Dean campaign made the accusation that myself and Markos were hired to say good things about Dean. It was total BS. In fact, I stopped blogging completely while on the Dean campaign. Since then, I've blogged minimally about candidates I am working with, and have tried to mention it in every post that I made about them, to try to avoid the experience of not being transparent. The few times I've went out and blogged about a candidate I was consulting for (Sherrod Brown, Mark Warner, Brian Moran come to mind), it just invited accusations. After the Sherrod Brown experience (two posts iirc), I vowed to never do it again. I made one "announcement" post for Warner on the blogs (Blogosphere in the Stratosphere!) and then wound up making a few posts here in 2009 while working for Brian Moran, so I had it in my bio at the time, and would mention it. Interestingly, on Twitter, one can't really disclose any relationship, and I was on that site quite often, twittering about Moran-- the 144 character limit is definitely a gray area for transparency. My takeaway from that, even though I was transparent, was that I should have remembered taking the vow.
It's nothing but trouble for a campaign staffer or consultant to not disclose the relationship they have to someone or some issue for whom they are blogging favorably. The same like-minded standard, at the least, should apply to anyone taking government money.