Jon Gruber doesn't understand transparency

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.

Tags: Jon Gruber (all tags)

Comments

27 Comments

3 questions

a) Did the White House know about Grubber's financial arrangement with the HHS?

b) What has the White House's reaction been to the story?

c) What has been the reaction of the defenders of the president who see him as unlike any other presidency before him?

by bruh3 2010-01-08 07:27PM | 1 recs
RE: 3 questions

a) of course. They were using him to predict CBO scores.

by Bob Brigham 2010-01-09 03:21AM | 1 recs
He did nothing wrong.

If you know anything about the how academic journals publish research, you'd realize that Dr. Gruber followed appropriate procedures for disclosure in the New England Journal of Medicine.

As for his op-eds and his comments to the media, this is what the Washington Post had to say about an editorial that Dr. Gruber wrote.

UPDATE: Washington Post op-ed editor Autumn Brewington emails that the Post, as a practice, asks writers to disclose any "conflicts of interest that might be relevant to this op-ed, including but not limited to financial or family relationships with any of the subjects of the article" and that Gruber, when asked whether he "received any funding, for research or otherwise, from organizations or persons identified in the column," answered "no." [UPDATE] She also defended the column. "The subject of the op-ed was not related to Gruber's work for the administration, and we accepted the column based on the body of his work and knowledge in this field," Brewington said in an email. "Generally we think more disclosure is better than less. But in this case he was writing about a Senate proposal and an idea that he has been promoting for years, so in the end we might well have decided his work for the administration was not relevant."

What none of the outraged opponents of <strike>the health care bill</strike> Dr. Gruber have managed to do is point to something that he said he wrote after March 2009 that conflicts with his academic work prior to receiving the first HHS contract at that time.  I understand that people are upset about the health care bill, but responding by tearing apart OUR OWN PEOPLE is madness!

by psychodrew 2010-01-08 08:09PM | 0 recs
He received funding while discussing the issues

It takes less than a second to realize that he has been discussing the issues during the period that he was receiving money. Trying to parse by focusing on academic journal ethics is not going to work. 

by bruh3 2010-01-08 08:20PM | 1 recs
Not parsing, it's the truth.

He followed the appropriate disclosure procedures for the NEJM and the Washington Post.  He was contracted by HHS to do some statistical analyses of the different health care policies.  He didn't hide this fact.  When he was asked about conflicts of interest, he answered the questions honestly.  Most importantly, his public statements after receiving the contracts are very consistent with what he said before. 

If you are really upset about the lack of transparency, you need to take your complaints to the media organizations and the New England Journal of Medicine.  He followed their procedures honestly.  But this really isn't about disclosing a federal contract.  This is taking the opportunity to lash out at somebody who supports an unpopular political position.  As a progressive, I am disgusted at how some of my peers are lashing out at our allies becuase we could not get a more progressive bill through the Senate.  Attacking Harry Reid, President Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, and now health care economist who was asked to do some statistical analyses for HHS.  As an academic, I'm offended.  The man's an economist, not a politician.  It's bad enough that we have teabaggers attacking progressive policy experts.  Now we have bitter people on our own side throwing mud.

THIS IS WHY GOOD PEOPLE STAY ON THE SIDELINES.

What's happened to our politics is really sad.

by psychodrew 2010-01-08 11:02PM | 0 recs
As a (former) academic, I have to concur

I have to confess that I have a hard time finding what I am supposed to be enraged over in this story. What is the issue?

I find it rather ironic that a story appears on a blog accused of conflict of interest (the "Liar Blog Fake" fiasco), about a potential conflict of interest with an economist hired by the HHS, and written about by a blogger who has (in his own words, above) been smeared by accusations of conflict of interest.

If we go around the circle discrediting everyone on accusations of wrongdoing, we're left with nothing.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-01-09 02:13AM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

The duty he owed the ethical standard to was the public.

 

You can try to change subject to the journal as much as you want.

It is typical DC bullshitting to think that everyone will ignore that you hiding the ball.

I am not fooled by this talking point that you and the rest are peddiling on line. 

You may get away with it in the press since they want this bill too. But, please, you are not convincing anyone with half a brain with this bullshit. 

His duty to the public when he say wrote the Washington Post Op Ed last month was to disclose his financial relationship with the administration, and yes, working for the HHS given the high level of advocacy he was doing should have been disclosed.

May I just add each time you play this game, this sort of thing damages the president image. In the short run, the general public does not notices these sort of things, but over time, more and more people pick up on it. So play your games, you may even win this time, but overtime, you are hurting him with this crap. 

 

 

by bruh3 2010-01-09 05:06AM | 0 recs
So facts don't matter?

He didn't violate the policies of the NEJM or the Washington Post.  You're upset becuase you don't like his research.  As an academic who does research on sensitive issues, that infuriates me.

As for hurting the president, I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill.  The only people who are really upset about this are those who worship at the church of the public option.  Even Faux News has let this go.  Everybody is a lot more concerned about the economy and terrorism than whether or not an economist who wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post disclosed a contract he had with the Department of Health and Human Services.

by psychodrew 2010-01-09 11:28AM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

The duty he owed the ethical standard to was the public.

 

You can try to change subject to the journal as much as you want.

It is typical DC bullshitting to think that everyone will ignore that you hiding the ball.

I am not fooled by this talking point that you and the rest are peddiling on line. 

You may get away with it in the press since they want this bill too. But, please, you are not convincing anyone with half a brain with this bullshit. 

His duty to the public when he say wrote the Washington Post Op Ed last month was to disclose his financial relationship with the administration, and yes, working for the HHS given the high level of advocacy he was doing should have been disclosed.

May I just add each time you play this game, this sort of thing damages the president image. In the short run, the general public does not notices these sort of things, but over time, more and more people pick up on it. So play your games, you may even win this time, but overtime, you are hurting him with this crap. 

 

 

by bruh3 2010-01-09 05:06AM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

If good people stay on the sidelines because they don't want to provide full disclosure, maybe they're really not that good.  Also, I find this argument (frequently used by corporate officers/boards to justify outrageous salaries) to be so pathetic.  One is called to public service out of a sense of duty, as part of the social contract.  If you are so fragile that you cannot acknowledge that you should have made a disclosure, apologize for it, and move on, then you really aren't doing any of us much good and should stay on the sidelines. 

by orestes 2010-01-09 01:59PM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

This argument is a hoot.  I assume you would agree then that if the Post had no standards for disclosure whatsoever (their prerogative), then there could never be a duty to disclose?  Isn't that a major reason why so many of us on the left challenge the ethics of Fox?  But I guess you would never have a complaint against their tactics because if the guest is not violating their policies, s/he is doing nothing wrong.  Have you thought out your arguments? 

by orestes 2010-01-09 02:19PM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

Of course.  You're right.  I don't have any ethics at all.  There's a winning argument.  You must have been on the debate team in high school.

by psychodrew 2010-01-09 10:19PM | 0 recs
RE: Not parsing, it's the truth.

Ah, the classic non-response with a dollop of snark.  Instead of this, I would have liked to hear you explain how your position re Gruber should not equally apply to the likes of Fox.  Any chance?

by orestes 2010-01-10 06:31AM | 0 recs
Gruber is not my people,

Beyond the lack of ethics (by him and the WH), the New York Times says his deception violated his contract:

On July 12, the Op-Ed page published an article by Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at M.I.T., on health insurance and taxation. On Friday, Professor Gruber confirmed reports that he is a paid consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services, and that his contract was in effect when he published his article. The article did not disclose this relationship to readers.
Like other writers for the Op-Ed page, Professor Gruber signed a contract that obligated him to tell editors of such a relationship. Had editors been aware of Professor Gruber’s government ties, the Op-Ed page would have insisted on disclosure or not published his article.
by Bob Brigham 2010-01-09 03:25AM | 0 recs
Deception?

What did exactly did the contract read?  The Washington Post indicated that he was not in violation of their regulations.  Deception implies that he intentionally tried to hide his relationship with the administration.  What evidence do you have that he engaged in deception.  This is what Karen Tumulty of Time wrote:

Count me among those who have quoted Jon Gruber often in the past--and among those who will continue to, although in the future, not without disclosing his financial ties. (Not having done so, by the way, is a failure of jounalists, not any fault of Gruber, who as best I can tell, never did anything to hide those ties.) Here's why I will continue to rely upon him as a source:

His data and his microsimulation model--15,000 lines of computer code--are, quite simply, the gold standard in health care policy. That's why politicians of both parties have turned to him for assistance.

The reason that some progressives are upset is that they don't like what Dr. Gruber has to say.  The man is an academic, not a politician.  He offered his expertise to a difficult issue and his opponents have acted in a predictably (sadly) immature manner, attempting to smear his image rather than debate the merits of research.  Why?  Because writing mean things on the internet is a lot easier than diving in specifics of his work.

by psychodrew 2010-01-09 11:24AM | 0 recs
RE: Deception?

Well, by not disclosing he was de facto deceptive- especially if his agreement with the Times obligated him to disiclose. 

It's a bad idea to defend this kind of behavior because (presumably) you like the speaker.  Is this really the kind of ethical standards you want in our society? 

As for the Post's waffling position, if you agree with their standard, why do we have any ethical standards at all?  Do you not believe that a scientist funded by an industry to do research should disclose that tie when s/he advocates a position that is favorable to her benefactor?  Surely, any scientist can say, well, the appearance on TV, etc. was on my own dime.  I was speaking from my personal viewpoint and it had nothing to do with my paid work.  I would suggest you should step back from trying to defend Grubver because (presumably) you agree with/like him and look at the larger picture of what kind of disclosure should the public be provided. 

Furthermore, if you truly believe there is no need to disclose here, why do we even have campaign finance disclosure rules?  Couldn't every contributor make the same claim, that their contribution was completely divorced from a position they advocate before the government, so there is no need to disclose?  The lax standards you advocate can only lead to more dirty dealing.

 

by orestes 2010-01-09 02:11PM | 2 recs
Like him?

I don't even know the guy.

I'm defending him because the progressives who oppose the HCR bill are lashing out at any and everybody they can right now.  This is madness.

I'm not advocating lax standards.  I'm not even saying that he shouldn't have disclosed anything.  He did.  In the article in NEJM he published last month, he disclosed his ties to the administration.  What I'm saying is that accusing this man of deception, of fudging his views to get/keep a federal contract is madness.  The facts don't suggest this at all. 

by psychodrew 2010-01-09 10:18PM | 0 recs
RE: Like him?

This diary is about what is appropriate transparency and disclosure.  This diary does not lash out at him at all- neither Jerome nor any of the commenters accuse him of fudging his views.  The issue being discussed is whether he should have disclosed his relationship with the government.  In your zeal to defend him, you do adopt a lax standard.  That was the point of my earlier comments:  as a progressive, do you really want to adopt such a minimal standard for public disclosure of working relationships?  It appears your response is yes. 

by orestes 2010-01-10 06:11AM | 0 recs
RE: Deception?

Addendum-  your willingness to parse the issue by questioning the language of the contract betrays your interest.  Do you really think the Times would have made such a statement if it was not clear from a plain reading of the contract (which presumably is a form contract the Times uses with all op-ed writers)?  Do you think there would be ambiguity on this issue in the contract?  C'mom- you're really reaching with this point and it makes you look foolish.

by orestes 2010-01-09 02:16PM | 1 recs
RE: Deception?

I mean, Armstrong Wiliams was even less at fault... can you point me to your link of defense on his behalf?

No, the reason here is the lack of transparency. Don't confuse your own limitations at viewing an issue without baggage with why others have an issue with Gruber's deception. I would like to see a figure like him made an example of, so we can move the benchmark a lot more to the side of transparency.

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-01-09 02:26PM | 1 recs
RE: Deception?

Do you seriously believe what you just wrote?  Armstrong Williams was hired to PROMOTE No Child Left Behind.

Dr. Gruber was hired by HHS to crunch numbers, not promote the administration's policy.  The man's an academic, not a politico.  The adminsitration would have done better to hire somebody with an audience.

 

by psychodrew 2010-01-09 10:12PM | 0 recs
RE: Deception?
I don't even think you know the background about Armstrong Williams. As orestes points out below, given Gruber's standards of disclosure, Williams would never have needed to disclose. Williams wasn't hired by the Bush Gov; it was actually more of a stretch to take him down. By comparison, Gruber's is a text book example of a lack of commonsense disclosure for those being paid directly from the government.
by Jerome Armstrong 2010-01-10 06:56PM | 0 recs
RE: Deception?

In January 2005, USA Today reported that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that Williams had been paid $240,000 to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. USA Today claimed Williams was hired "to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same".

As part of the agreement, Williams was required "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004". The contract with Williams was part of a $1 million contract between the U.S. Department of Education and the public relations company, Ketchum Inc.

Source

Williams worked for a company hired by Ed Dept to promote NCLB, no? 

by psychodrew 2010-01-10 11:29PM | 0 recs
There seems to be a lot of that going around

I am trying to understand this issue. Clearly there is something amiss, and I agree that greater transparency is called for. But I am having a very hard time trying to envision the scandal here. You claim this is worse than the Armstrong Williams controversy, my questions are:

1. Did Armstrong Williams reveal beforehand that he was being paid by the Education Department?

2. Was Jon Gruber paid to promote an Administration policy, or was he paid for research?

Perhaps if I can view this in relationship to Armstrong Williams, I can better understand the scandal.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-01-09 10:21PM | 0 recs
RE: There seems to be a lot of that going around

Dr. Gruber was paid to do research.  But that doesn't matter.  If Dr. Gruber doesn't toe the FDL line, then he is the enemy and he must be destroyed.

by psychodrew 2010-01-10 02:29AM | 0 recs
RE: There seems to be a lot of that going around

I believe Williams was paid by Ketchum, which had the contract with the government.  By Gruber's standards, he had no duty to disclose during his advocacy because he was not being paid by the government at all.  This is ridiculous in both instances. 

As a liberal progressive, I think there is an appearance of impropriety whenever a public spokesperson does not disclose her ties to a group whose views are being promoted by his advocacy.  Don't you think researchers paid by the tobacco industry who advocate that cigarettes do not cause cancer should disclose that relationship?  The issue of disclosure is separate from whether Gruber's advocacy is tainted by his failure to disclose.  On that, we can all draw our own conclusions (that's the rationale for the disclosure in the first place- to allow the reader/viewer to draw her own conclusions).  I would hope that all of us on the left could agree that such disclosure is ethically mandated.  When we parse this obligation by making claims, for example, that Gruber adhered to the Post's standards so there is no issue, we diminish that ethical obligation and invite propoganda.  Surely, the particularly egregious behavior of the Bush admin taught us the danger of going down this road. 

 

by orestes 2010-01-10 06:26AM | 0 recs
Jerome, Good Diary

Jerome, you and I have disagreed on many things.  Admittedly, I could have done a better job of research as a pro-Obama primary voter and MyDD'r Front Pager back in 2008.  You gave me a haircut about a diary that I posted that was openly critical of Hillary Clinton taking the same approximate stance as John McCain , on the issue of gas tax refunds and incentives to help deal with the cost of skyrocketing gasoline back when it was maxing  out and became something of a campaign issue (if you recall, Obama said that such half-measures would not work).

 

 

And now, seemingly, you are blogging frequently about something you have called the 'public option', ie. the national health service element of the house bill that will survive when the two bills are merged. You've been openly questioning Obama's credentials as a progressive.  And well that we all should -

 

Most of our personal disagreements will be settled here when or if Healthcare Reform comes out of Commitee, knowing that right now the house bill  can trump the senate bill on the issue of National Health Service - if Obama decides to throw his weight behind such an element. We all know laws and sausages are two things better not seen being made.

 

But Jerome, diaries like this are the reason I've been a fan of MyDD for well over five years now.

 

Good work. We agree on the absolutely fundamental element. You are 100 percent correct on this diary. The dude needs to disclose.

 

Keep up the good work, and good luck.

 

by Trey Rentz 2010-01-10 02:31PM | 0 recs

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