The government contracting process is supposed to be transparent, fair, and subject to open bidding so the American people can have confidence that politicians and their appointees in the federal bureaucracies do not engage in the behavior of rewarding campaign donors with sweetheart deals.
Note I said supposed to be transparent, fair and open. Often it is not, as evidenced by an apparently corrupt arrangement between the Obama USDA and an Obama-connected marketing firm.
Recently we announced the release of 44 pages of documents revealing that in 2010, the USDA evidently violated federal law by giving a $100,000 no-bid contract to a marketing firm with close ties to President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. The funds were for the purpose of spearheading Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” obesity initiative.
How close were the ties?
Top executives of the firm Shepardson, Stern, and Kaminsky (SS+K) previously held key positions on Obama campaign staffs, and the firm produced advertising for the 2012 Obama campaign, including the controversial “Your First Time” TV commercial, which compared voting to losing one’s virginity.
Importantly, even the USDA has admitted that the contract might have been unlawful. Following the early February 2010 delivery of the SS+K materials, the USDA, in an apparent effort to justify the no-bid contract, produced a “Request for Ratification of an Unauthorized Commitment” conceding possible violations of Federal Acquisition and Agriculture Acquisition regulations.
The request said the USDA employee “was not aware of the contracting process” and that “the importance of this program necessitated an aggressive schedule that hindered his ability to research the process.”
Let me cut through the bureaucrat-speak for a moment: What the Obama administration argues here is that the urgent need to advance Michelle Obama’s obesity initiative was of greater importance than following the law. And the person who presided over the contract allocation did not even have a basic understanding of the contracting process.
Once again, we see the perfect storm of incompetence, corruption and cover-up from this administration.
The records also reveal that in early April the Deputy Director of the USDA Office of Procurement & Property Management sent an email to the project director asking, “What did we get for our money?” Also, the commitment might have been “unauthorized.”
The documents obtained by JW were in response to a June 13, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the following information from January 1, 2010, to the present:
- Any and all contracts between USDA and SS+K, a creative marketing firm located at 1717 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Suite 660, Washington, DC 20036 and Pine Street, 30th Floor, New York, NY 10005.
- Any and all records of communication between any official, employee, or representative of the United States Department of Agriculture and any officer, employee, or representative of SS+K.
According to the documents, the USDA awarded SS+K the “unauthorized commitment,” no-bid contract to produce the “Let’s Move” logo, slogan, and artwork for Michelle Obama’s campaign, as well as the creative design for the “Let’s Move” website, which right now features characters from the Muppets as well as photos of Michelle Obama dancing/exercising.
SS+K evidently delivered the completed project in February 2010 with a 30-day invoice. On April 5, 2010, Jodey Edwards, Deputy Director, USDA, Office of Procurement & Property Management, sent an email to USDA Administrative Officer Yvette Ward asking, “What did we get for our money … any deliverable? I know this is an unauthorized commitment: however the[y] still must provide evidence of what is being paid for …”
To say that SS+K saw a precipitous rise in its government contracting business after Obama took office would be an understatement.
Prior to the $100,000 “Let’s Move” no-bid contract, SS+K also received contracts totaling $2 million from the Obama Department of Education for the “TEACH” teacher recruitment campaign in 2010. Previous to the Obama election, the firm, founded in the early 1990s, had landed only one government contract, a $50,000 contract from the Department of Defense in 2002.
This increase in government business – from $50,000 to $2.1 million – comes as no surprise given the connections of the company’s higher-ups.
The firm’s founding partner, Robert Shepardson, previously led SS+K’s work on the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Marty Cooke, who also worked on the “Let’s Move” account for SS+K, was the creative director during the Obama ’08 campaign. SS+K vice president Mike Moffo is the former National Director of Special Projects for the Obama 2008 campaign. Other SS+K clients include the AFL-CIO, George Soros’ Open society Foundation, and the Democratic National Committee.
Just as with the no-bid contract for the disastrous Obamacare website, it is clear Barack Obama is paying off his friends out of the public treasury. And for the USDA to try to justify its sleight of hand by claiming that the “importance” of the program “necessitated an aggressive schedule” is both disingenuous and insulting.