Enlarge /. Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staff on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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The Trump administration's $ 300 million "public promotion and awareness campaign" on the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled as A-list celebrities and Department of Health and Human Services employees return, according to reports of Politico resist.
The campaign, organized by former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo, was intended to "defeat despair" and build confidence in the Trump administration's response to the pandemic. A key feature of the campaign would be video interviews between celebrities and administrative officials discussing the pandemic and the federal response.
To do that, Caputo and his team requested $ 300 million that Congress had previously earmarked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also made a list of more than 30 famous people they hoped would appear on the Ministry of Health videos, including Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Britney Spears, Bruno Mars, Bon Jovi, and Madonna .
However, the project has been plagued by missteps by an inexperienced team, disorganization, and lukewarm interest from celebrities. So far it has only been possible to recruit Dennis Quaid, CeCe Winans and the Hasidic singer Shulem Lemmer. Quaid canceled the campaign this week.
The campaign was further challenged earlier this month when Caputo – whom Trump had named spokesman for HHS – announced a leave of absence.
Meanwhile, many current and former HHS employees oppose the campaign, which many see as a public relations offer in support of Trump's re-election.
Josh Peck, a former HHS official who oversaw the Obama administration's advertising campaign for HealthCare.gov, previously told Politico, "CDC has not yet run an awareness campaign about Covid guidelines – but they will pay for a campaign about how to to get rid of our despair? Led by political representatives in the press shop? Just before an election? "
"It's like every red flag I can dream of," he added.
Others expressed frustration that the campaign was not based on expertise within HHS. Instead, the campaign was completed with a video company run by a former Caputo business partner. The company had problems meeting deadlines and keeping employees, the people involved in the campaign told Politico.
Still others at HHS were upset that funds were being spent on a video campaign about the pandemic response rather than the pandemic response itself.
"This is a boondoggle," an HHS official, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive departmental project, told Politico. "We're in the middle of a pandemic … we could use that quarter of a billion dollars to buy PPE [personal protective equipment] instead of promoting PPE with C-list celebrities."