Firms run by Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn stand to make millions from stimulus planDavid Saltonstall
Originally Published:Wednesday, December 9th 2009, 11:51 AM
McNamee/Getty; Miller/NewsFirms run by Hillary Clinton strategist Mark Penn stand to make a pretty penny from stimulus dollars.
Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn is looking at some pretty sweet numbers - namely $6 million in federal stimulus contracts awarded to two firms he controls.
The Hill newspaper reported Wednesday that $5.97 million from the $787 billion stimulus package helped preserve three jobs at Burson-Marsteller, the global PR firm headed by Penn.
The Obama administration awarded the contracts to Burson-Marsteller to work on a public-relations campaign to advertise the national switch from analog to digital television.
A portion of the funds also went to Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, according to federal records.
Hoping to take some of the air out of the story, Burson-Marsteller put out a statement on Wednesday that said of the $6 million allowed under the competitively bid contract, only about $4.36 million was spent.
Of that, about $1.5 million in fees was pocketed by Penn's two companies. The rest went to pay for ads to get out the word on the analog-to-digital shift, company officials said.
Federal records also show that a former adviser to President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign also received nearly $70,000 from that contract to help alert viewers in difficult-to-reach communities that their televisions would soon no longer receive broadcast signals.
The adviser, Alfredo J. Balsera, who heads a PR firm based in Coral Gables, Fla., helped craft Obama's Hispanic advertising message.
The questionable contracts have emerged as Republicans are already bashing the stimulus package as wasteful and ineffectual.
On Tuesday, Arizona Sen. John McCain declared that "much of the stimulus bill has been a failure" at a press conference where he singled out 100 wasteful projects.
McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released a report saying more than $7 billion was "wasted, mismanaged, or directed toward silly and shortsighted projects."
Some of the big-ticket items cited by the two GOPers were $1.3 billion in spending for Amtrak, which loses money on most of its passenger train routes, and $1.9 billion to help speed the long-delayed clean-up of the Energy Department's Hanford nuclear weapons site.
White House officials have countered with figures from the Congressional Budget Office, which has estimated the stimulus helped to create 1.6 million jobs.
But the federal contracts awarded to Penn - one of the most controversial strategists inside or outside The Beltway - are sure to ignite a new firestorm of complaint.
As a presidential candidate, Clinton paid Penn millions of dollars as senior strategist for much of her campaign, although his advice was widely considered to be off the mark. Penn cast Clinton as the steady hand whose years of Washington experience made her the better candidate.
But the electorate was clearly looking for change, a theme that candidate Obama used to maximum effect.
As Secretary of State, Clinton has continued to try and pay off what was a $20 million mountain of leftover campaign debt. And she had largely succeeded - her outstanding debt is down to $995,500.
Every penny of that $995,500 is owed to to Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, records show.
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