In an ongoing effort to use the government’s resources to bolster President Trump’s reelection campaign, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) drafted a coronavirus awareness campaign that would have banned certain celebrities based on their support for LGBTQ rights and other causes the agency considered offensive. The campaign was designed to be a key part of Trump’s re-election effort.
The aborted $300 million campaign, with the theme “Helping the President will help the country,” was the brainchild of the department’s spokesman, Michael Caputo. Caputo, who was personally chosen by Trump for his role, took a medical leave last month after having a Facebook meltdown in which he accused government scientists of “sedition” and urged Trump supporters to arm themselves.
Caputo and contractors working for the Trump campaign came up with a list of 274 celebrities to consider for the publicly funded campaign. The contractors then vetted the celebrities to see if they were friendly to Trump or at least politically neutral. Celebrities who didn’t fit Caputo’s criteria wouldn’t be allowed to participate.
The contractors created a “PSA Celebrity Tracker,” which listed the celebrities, the demographics they might appeal to, and “additional notes.” The tracker included information on the celebrities’ political views and endorsements, as well as any arrests.
Celebrities who were eliminated from consideration based on their support for LGBTQ rights included Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera (“a gay-rights supporting liberal”), and Will Smith. Taylor Swift was called out because she “wrote a letter to her senator to support the Equality Act.” On perhaps the most laughable note, out singer Ricky Martin is described as a “Democratic Party supporter with an interest in gay rights.”
Unsurprisingly, only ten celebrities passed muster for Caputo. Two of them–Dennis Quaid and CeCe Winans–pulled out after reports emerged making clear that the campaign was not a public awareness effort but a plug for Trump’s re-election.
The Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee obtained the celebrity tracker and other documents as part of its investigation into the misuse of public funds. Democrats on the committee have complained that HHS has refused to produce other documents related to the PR campaign.
Caputo, who had no medical background, is emblematic of the Trump administration’s refusal to follow the recommendations of scientists. He pushed for changes to the CDC’s weekly reports that would have minimized the pandemic and weakened recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus.
The only bit of good news to come out of HHS is that Trump’s political appointees are fleeing the agency, anticipating the president’s loss next week.