Czardom has its privileges. This week, President Obama's health care overlord, Nancy DeParle, launched a taxpayer-funded initiative to recruit an Internet Snitch Brigade that will combat "disinformation about health insurance reform." As the White House explained in a special online bulletin:
"These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com."
What will health care czar DeParle do with this information? Where will it be stored? Who has oversight of the czar's powers, budget and personnel? Concerned citizens, alas, will have a hard time tracking down the "Office of Health Care Reform" created by executive order in April. There is no central website for the office, no direct channel for transparency and no congressional accountability.
At least one member of Congress has started asking questions. Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Obama demanding that he disband the Internet Snitch Brigade immediately: "By requesting citizens send 'fishy' e-mails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House," Cornyn wrote. "You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."
Taxpayers have the right to know what government agencies and third parties the health care czar may share that data with -- and why. Take note: The White House Office of Health Care Reform is working in close quarters with an entirely separate Office of Health Reform created under the Department of Health and Human Services. That office is staffed with several Obama campaign operatives and former employees of the Center for American Progress, including special assistant Michael Halle and HHS Office of Health Reform Director Jeanne Lambrew, a former senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who worked on health policy in the Clinton administration.
CAP is a lead organization in the Health Care for America Now coalition, the "grassroots" lobbying group for Obama's health care takeover legislation run out of 1825 K Street in Washington, D.C., with a $40 million budget. CAP is also the parent group of Think Progress, the far-left website leading the smear campaign against fiscally conservative activists protesting at congressional town halls.
Lawmakers must also dig far beyond the health care czar's flagging operation. Last month, a Washington, D.C., citizen watchdog group filed suit to force the White House to disclose which health care lobbyists and executives it had met with this year to discuss the government health care takeover legislation. White House counsel Greg Craig refused to disclose which administration officials attended the meetings. But at least two of the industry visitors have ties to DeParle.
William C. Weldon is chairman of Johnson & Johnson, which paid DeParle $7,500 for a recent speech. Wayne Smith is chief executive of Community Health Systems, which merged with Triad Hospitals -- where DeParle served on the board of directors. DeParle's options were converted to cash payments worth $1.05 million.
Despite Obama's lip service to transparency, the public is in the dark about which assets DeParle has divested; how many times, if any, DeParle has recused herself from policy matters and meetings; and the exact nature of her conversations with health care executives. While White House press secretary Robert Gibbs lambastes the corporate health care ties of Republican opponents, he has shrugged off the corporate ties of the woman leading the Obamacare charge.
Alert the Internet Snitch Brigade: The fishiest odor is emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.