The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has unsuccessfully tried to recruit dozens of celebrities to appear in an ad campaign to “inspire hope” in President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reported on Tuesday.
Politico said that according to six people with knowledge of the campaign and documents related to the project, HHS officials made a list of more than 30 celebrities, including Justin Timberlake, Taylor SwiftTaylor Alison SwiftSocial media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Taylor Swift on National Voter Registration Day: ‘We need everyone’ Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Hart among celebs highlighting National Voter Registration Day MORE and Billy Joel, to appear in an advertising campaign as part of the department’s $300 million effort to promote positive messaging on COVID-19.
However, the department was only able to bring on Dennis Quaid, CeCe Winans and Hasidic singer Shulem Lemmer for recorded public service announcements (PSAs).
Politico reported that Quaid and other potential participants have since reconsidered their involvement or left the project completely after House Democrats launched an investigation into the ad blitz, with many lawmakers arguing that the campaign was ordered by Trump to help his political standing ahead of the November election.
Michael Caputo, the top HHS spokesperson who announced last week that he was taking medical leave and had been diagnosed with cancer, said in a Facebook video on Sept. 13 that the campaign was “demanded of me by the president of the United States. Personally.”
According to Politico, campaign participants and HHS officials described the media blitz effort on the COVID-19 pandemic as “chaotic.”
“This is a boondoggle,” said a HHS official who Politico said requested anonymity to freely discuss the department project. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic … we could use that quarter of a billion dollars on buying PPE [personal protective equipment], not promoting PSAs with C-list celebrities.”
Representatives for some celebrities reportedly said that they had no desire to participate in the ad campaign.
“It would be malpractice to my client,” the representative for one on the administration’s wish list told Politico, requesting to remain anonymous so the client’s name would not be tied with a politically sensitive issue. “There are other ways to raise coronavirus awareness than partnering with the Trump administration.”
HHS did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on Politico’s reporting.
In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee earlier this month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield confirmed that his agency had been asked by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and HHS to transfer $300 million to the HHS public affairs office to carry out the campaign, but said there was no collaboration beyond that.
“We haven’t played a role. We were just, as I mentioned, instructed by HHS and OMB to transfer the funds,” Redfield said at the time.