Thursday, May 31, 2012

Public Relations and Propaganda: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities

Public Relations and Propaganda: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities
Updated March 21, 2005
Kevin R. Kosar
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division

Public Relations and Propaganda: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities


Controversies recently have arisen over certain executive branch agencies’ expenditures of appropriated funds on public relations activities, some of which have been characterized as propagandistic. Generally speaking, there are two legal restrictions on agency public relations activities and propaganda. 5 U.S.C. 3107 prohibits the use of appropriated funds to hire publicity experts. Appropriations law “publicity and propaganda” clauses restrict the use of funds for puffery of an agency, purely partisan communications, and covert propaganda. No federal agency monitors federal public relations activities, but a Member or Committee of Congress may ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine an agency’s expenditures on public relations activities with a view to their legality. Any effort to reform current statutory restrictions on agency public relations activities will face three challenges: tracking public relations activities by agencies, defining “propaganda,” and enforcing laws against agency use of funds for publicity experts and propaganda.

On January 26, 2005, H.R. 373 was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would require a federal agency to notify the Congress no later than 30 days after entering into a public relations contract, codify the publicity and propaganda clause and provide penalties for violations of it, and require federal agencies to label their communications as having been paid for with appropriated funds.

On February 2, 2005, S. 266 was introduced in the Senate. The bill would define “publicity and propaganda,” codify the types of communications that constitute publicity and propaganda, provide financial penalties for executive agency officials who authorize the use of appropriated funds for publicity and propaganda, empower both the Attorney General and private citizens to bring civil actions against agency officials who authorize the use of appropriated funds for publicity and
propaganda, and provide “whistleblower protection” from agency retribution for employees who take actions in support of this law.

This report will be updated as events warrant.

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