Labor Department spent $500G in stimulus on green-job ad blitz on Olbermann, Maddow

By Judson Berger
Published August 22, 2012

The Obama administration paid a PR firm nearly $500,000 in stimulus funds to run a barrage of ads on White House-friendly cable programs promoting its green job training program.

According to government records, the Labor Department paid the money in late 2009 to a company that negotiated a media buy on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" and "The Rachel Maddow Show." The ad was set to run more than 100 times -- 14 times a week for two months.

It's unclear how many people might have gotten involved in the green job training program because of the ads. But in terms of direct economic impact, the official online entry on the contract listed zero jobs created as a result of the payment.

"On the surface, this doesn't pass the basic sniff test," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told

Chaffetz, who said he's writing a letter to the Labor Department seeking more information about the contract, complained that the federal government already spends "way too much" on advertising as it is.

He said the targeting of these ads also raises questions about "political motivations."

The $495,000 contract was awarded to McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations.

The Labor Department defended the expense, suggesting in a brief statement Wednesday afternoon that the decisions on placement were largely made by the contractor.

"Job Corps has used media buys over the decades to inform potential participants and referral sources as well as employers about the Job Corps program. In this case, the Department of Labor relied on an outside contractor and media buying expert to perform research, conduct cost comparisons of media outlets, determine the most cost-effective way to reach the target audience, and create and place the ads," the department said.

Two department spokesmen also told The Washington Times that Larry King's former CNN show was considered for carrying the ad but was dropped because MSNBC was thought to be able to reach more viewers.

But Rick Manning, a spokesman with Americans for Limited Government who used to be chief of staff in the Labor Department's public affairs office in the George W. Bush administration, took issue with the department's explanation of the purchase. "The fact that they claim that they delegated this spending authority to a consultant without oversight is outrageous," he said.

The Maddow and Olbermann shows -- the latter of which is no longer on MSNBC -- have been two of the friendliest programs toward the administration on cable TV. Maddow herself cut an MSNBC ad last year touting government investment in infrastructure -- an Obama priority -- as she stood in front of the Hoover Dam and called on the country to "figure out whether or not we are still a country that can think this big."
The official "award summary" on the Labor Department contract explained that the ads were meant for "raising awareness among employers and influencers" about the green job training program and to move a "target audience" to contact the Job Corps Call Center to ask about enrolling.

The summary cited "existing and new training initiatives in high-growth and environmentally friendly career areas."
According to the Labor Department, the Job Corps committed more than $9 million in stimulus funds toward growing its training program and brought in more than 60,000 students to participate in the process.

The department reported that it was adding training programs "for an emerging green economy" -- by developing concentrations for such careers as weatherization technician, smart meter technician and other fields.