Gruber's Response: "Consistent" but Not "Disclosed"

Ben Smith got a fairly long response from Jonathan Gruber on why he hasn’t disclosed the $392,600 contracts he has had with HHS during the period when he was the chief spokesperson for the Administration’s health care plan. He lays out his qualifications and points to some studies addressing the questions I have asked (I’ll return to them shortly). The bulk of his response is spent insisting that everything he has said was completely consistent with his beliefs (which, if I remember correctly, is just what Armstrong Williams had to say).

Moreover, at no time have I publicly advocated a position that I did not firmly believe – indeed, I have been completely consistent with my academic track record. On the two issues this article raises:

But that, of course, wasn’t the point. I don’t doubt he believes all this stuff. But why didn’t he disclose it? Here’s what he says about that.

Gruber told POLITICO that he has told reporters of the contract “whenever they asked” and noted that he formally disclosed that “I am a paid consultant to the Obama Administration” in a form attached to his most recent, December 24 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, though it wasn’t widely known by reporters on the beat.

So, nine months after he first gets a contract with HHS, he starts disclosing the relationship, and only to the organization that can totally discredit him professionally, not to those that will more directly affect the health care debate? Gruber was first put under contract in March of last year–$95,000 to promote “the President’s” plan–and the received another $297,600 in June. Why no disclosure then? And why–after he decided he ought to start disclosing this stuff–did he not disclose it in a December 28 op-ed in the WaPo?

  1. hctomorrow says:

    And why–after he decided he ought to start disclosing this stuff–did he not disclose it in a December 28 op-ed in the WaPo?

    Because there are no consequences for failing to disclose conflicts of interest in the mainstream media. Conflict of interest is their new business model.

  2. klynn says:


    A key for you to focus on would be concerns in the MA program.

    From 1997 to 1998, Gruber served as Assistant Deputy Secretary for Economic Policy in the U. S. Treasury Department.

    More recently, Gruber has served as an advisor on health care reform to political candidates and elected officials. He is frequently called upon to provide estimates of how various policy options might affect health insurance coverage. He bases those estimates on a model he developed.

    Gruber has generally worked with Democrats, including all three of the leading presidential candidates in 2008, although he has advised some Republicans, as well. He was a key architect of the sweeping health insurance reforms that Massachusetts enacted in 2006, while Mitt Romney was governor. Gruber currently sits on the board of the state’s “Connector,” which helps oversee the implementation of those reforms.

    (my bold)

    • ghostof911 says:

      Gruber has generally worked with Democrats, including all three of the leading presidential candidates in 2008, although he has advised some Republicans, as well.

      It is called hedging his bets. The trick was perfected by Henry K. in 68.

  3. bgrothus says:

    Plus (also) it seems that consulting pays much better than being on staff. And also, not doing the job he was paid to do. Meet new outsourcing, same as the old outsourcing.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Biz school profs have been earning outsized consulting fees for decades. It’s the ownership society thing. MIT, the institution, has little call on his time. He owns his own time.

  4. roblevine says:

    I don’t get why these high profile guys don’t understand that before they do something (take money, for example) they should contemplate how the revelation of said thing on the front page of a newspaper would make them feel. It can’t be a surprise to Gruber that the revelation of these payments would immediately discredit him. Did he think the payments would remain secret forever? Or just long enough to get the bill passed.

  5. sinestar says:

    Ahhhh. Breath in. The sweet smell of “transparency”, “hope”, and “change we can believe in”.

    Like the smell of a backwater, windowless filling station bathroom that hasn’t had a healthy dose of bleach in a fortnight.

    Mmmmm. I love that smell. Hey, what does that say on the stall next to the phone number? Can’t quite make it out.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Hey, what does that say on the stall next to the phone number? Can’t quite make it out

      It sez call Jon Gruber at the number below to get thoroughly f’d over.

      • sinestar says:

        No I mean, above the number… looks like… err… For a big wet slobbery blowjob call… I think.

    • Blutodog says:

      Oh yea, can’t u see how much the toilet bowl called DC has Changed since Mr. Klean has arrived with Team Hope?

  6. klynn says:

    Question EW,

    Any known reason why Ben Smith is the one who did a follow-up on your post? Does he have a blog-crush?

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s actually the kind of thing Politico likes (remember, they were the one to break WaPo’s Pay2Play Salons). Plus, as I noted in my last post on this, Mike Allen has sucked at the Gruber teat. So there may be some institutional shock at this.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That’s the thing about commercial air fresheners. They disburse a lot of fragrance, but leave the original odors intact. Fresh air requires a wind of change, not the inversion layer that has settled over the Potomac as it traps hot air and lies as if they were smog over Los Angeles.

  7. econobuzz says:

    Did he think the payments would remain secret forever?

    Far from it. He knows the disclosure of the payments increases the present value of his future consulting fees — as Obama’s go-to guy on HCR.

    • marcopolo says:

      Good point. And the sort of reality check needed at a lot of progressive websites. This kind of conflict of interest just doesn’t register where it counts: broad public perception. It’s something he’ll be able to use again and again on his ‘resume’. The only hitch is if the MSM decides to take it up. Then he’s in trouble.

      I’m not knocking this article on its merits, just some of the comments which suggest this is a huge blow to Gruber’s credibility. As a supporter of single payer, the more of this kind of investigative reporting there is, the better.

      I’m of the ‘Kill this Bill’ frame of mind. Real reform stands a better chance getting an open hearing if the current situation persists. Otherwise, we keep getting the worst results (among wealthy nations) for the highest cost, and single payer or ‘all payer/single negotiator’ (systems that allow cost control) gets deferred for a generation or longer. Regulatory capture should be publicized to the max. I certainly hope the MSM gets on this.

  8. temptingfate says:

    Sure Gruber is ethically compromised because he was working for Obama while pretending to be more or less neutral but that doesn’t seem different from a lot of other voices in this process. The size of the payment are beyond explanation but the corruption of spending large sums of taxpayer cash seems so uncontroversial anymore.

    What is interesting to me is that Obama hired this guy, and presumably others, to be frontmen for the policies he wanted to enact. Policies that he was promoting that were at odds with some of Obama’s public statements and his public demeanor that suggested that he had no dogs in the health insurance debate. When reading what Gruber wrote, now that we know he was a mouthpiece for Obama’s policies, one can see that the poorly conceived excise tax is in fact a corner stone of Obamas covertly defined policies.

    Gruber is probably telling the truth when he says he believes that forcing businesses to pay less for insurance will put money in the pocket of employees. The fact that this is patent nonsense is almost beside the point. Obama hired Gruber, at massive taxpayer expense, to promote policies that Obama didn’t admit to furiously supporting in public.

    “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Seems, once again to mean, I’ll tell you vacuous nonsense and use others to promote my agenda with taxpayer money.

  9. klynn says:

    Even this piece he authored for Washington Monthly does not clarify his association.

    It only states this at the bottom:

    Jonathan Gruber is a professor of economics at MIT and a member of the Massachusetts Health Connector Board.

  10. eCAHNomics says:

    Seems like everywhere Gruber publishes that allows comments, we ought to try to leave on with links to Marcy’s posts.

    • medicinecat says:

      John Kerry’s citing Gruber on the HuffPo today, but the HuffPo moderator will not let us direct readers to the posts here on Firedoglake exposing Gruber as a paid shill.

      Who are the HuffPo censors, and who gives them their marching orders?

      • temptingfate says:

        If I posted, using a new account, it would be lost in a sea of short sentences long before they halted my ability to comment again.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        If you can’t post a URL, try firedoglakedotcom or something similar. That at least takes a new reader to the site, if not a specific article. Or simply refer to the title of a post, such as this one.

        That seems to be an odd “protective device” for HuffPo, but then I never comment there and rarely read more than Froomkin and the headlines. It sells too much frenzy and not enough substance, like a glitzy version of TPM.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Gruber is prevaricating. He has an affirmative obligation to disclose his conflict of interest as a highly compensated spokesman for the administration. Just as he affirmatively disclosed it to his professional association. Just as all those former heartthrob actors disclose it when they sell crap life insurance to the elderly – “You cannot be turned down” – each and every time they sell it to the public.

    One other thing. It’s not enough for a top academic to believe he’s right. For him to have any credibility, it has to be objectively verified that he’s right. Dr. Gruber hasn’t met that obligation, either.

    • phred says:

      For him to have any credibility, it has to be objectively verified that he’s right. Dr. Gruber hasn’t met that obligation, either.

      This is a really important point. What bothers me the most (since corruption is SOP in poltical circles these days) is the fact that he makes lots of claims based on a proprietary model. In other words, no one else gets to look under the hood of his code to examine his underlying assumptions. The output of any model is a function of those assumptions, but if no one really knows what you did, well heck, you’re free to say whatever you want with the flimsy support of saying “the model says so”.

      As a scientific modeler I can assure you, that models are prone to significant errors. Only by publishing your methods and letting others kick the tires a bit does a given academic community come around to a consensus of whether the model produces a reasonable semblance of reality.

      I’m not buying Gruber’s sole-source, proprietary model software as anything more than personal opinion tricked out with a little bit of math without a thorough examination of its underlying assumptions.

      • selise says:

        he makes lots of claims based on a proprietary model.

        it’s worse than that.

        i read two of his reports (one was an update) and in them he based his conclusions on 1) cbo data in a way they expressly say their data shouldn’t be used and 2) an ahip (insurance industry lobbyists) report on MA (which i know from personal experience of living in MA is wrong and/or misleading).

        see my comments and links on the previous thread if you want some of the gory details.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Excellent point. In the style of corrupt voting machine vendors, Dr. Gruber is selling conclusions from his proprietary software – which may have national significance – in a way that prevents the public from looking at the code to verify how he manipulates the data.

        Unable to see or critique that important process, we have political theater full of numbers touted by eminent academics, but we have nothing more in substance than competing shouting heads, “I’m right…No, I’m right”, as the foundation for a generation’s worth of national policy.

        Mr. Obama seems determined to run a neck and neck in a race with Mr. Bush to see who can come in last in the presidential legacy stakes.

      • klynn says:

        EOH and phred:

        Great points. Spot on. This needs more sunlight. especially since tax dollars in MA are being spent based on his model(s).

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Being paid to do research is one thing. Being paid personally to shill its sometimes questionable conclusions as the basis for national policy – and giving the administration a cut-out, if needed, is something else.

    • temptingfate says:

      I’m so old I can remember when this was considered unacceptable and bordered on illegal.

      Those were the days.

  13. medicinecat says:

    John Kerry’s quoting Gruber’s BS today over on the HuffPo. Also, according to Herman “Heinz” Munster, the tax on workers’s employee-provided health benefits will not harm workers, but instead it will stick-it to the greedy insurance companies and keep them honest.

    I now see why the party ran Kerry in 2004. He has just the right blend of vicious sociopathy and unquestioning loyalty to class privilege that seems to be the foundation of today’s Democratic Party.

    By the way, when I try to direct HuffPo readers over here to read the articles on Gruber, I’m vaporized by the HuffPo moderator.

    • phred says:

      I haven’t had the stomach to read Kerry’s op-ed. For one thing the title is misleading as it says he’s “Sticking By The Tax on Insurance Companies”, when the tax is on policy holders. But the really outrageous part of the title is “This Progressive” — say what?!?!? John Kerry is no more progressive than John McCain. Give me a break. That worthless DLC weaseal has been my Senator for far too long and he doesn’t have a progressive bone is in lying duplicitous body.

      The nerve of our so-called “progressive” Dem Senators to keep writing these outrageous “the bill is swell” op-ed pieces (and yeah I’m looking at you too Harkin) is infuriating. The leadership sends them out to make a sales pitch and they dutifully salute and do their duty to the party hierarchy. Where they hell were they when their progressive constituents needed them to take a stand in crafting the damn bill? AWOL. Each. and. every. one. We don’t have any progressive Senators. Not one.

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Selise@71 made this comment in the previous post and it bears repeating:

    …having read two of gruber’s “reports” i do want to add that they were in no way what i would call “research” (i’d probably fail a first year college student for them). advocacy is, imo, a slightly more accurate description of the reports i read. flamingly bad propaganda is, imo, an even more accurate description. they were so bad i don’t know why anyone would take gruber seriously on healthcare reform (other than to do what scarecrow did, which was to point out the flaws).

    Is it a violation of law or merely bad practice to sell propaganda for the government without disclosing that the government is compensating you to do so?

  15. orionATL says:

    E of h @43

    My feeling exactly on both huff post and tpm.

    I will add that I
    Believe both net “magazines” Became Obama mouthpieces sometime in late spring 2008.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      LOTS of folks are bemoaning the tabloidization of TPM,judging from what I read over there,last night, posted by TPM bloggers.

    • phred says:

      Thanks klynn : ) I’m kinda hopeless on the diary front and now I have to scoot, but I do appreciate the compliment!

      • klynn says:

        Perhaps Marcy will pick up on your comment and expand it. Your comment goes to the heart of the issues involved in “policy authority.”

  16. ondelette says:

    I certainly hope you all have the wherewithall to completely nail this guy.

    Otherwise, you are all tearing apart the integrity of an academic researcher with allegations of corruption and falsification that will cause permanent injury to his career. If you’re wrong, who is accountable for the pecking party? Totally irresponsible if you’re doing it only to discredit his arguments.

    • bmaz says:

      You know, it is fairly interesting how you have entered into the discussion proffered here on effectively an appearance of impropriety standard as to Gruber, unilaterally reframed it as being a discussion of “provable corruption” when that was never the allegation or discussion, and then torn through the comments of others using the frame you unilaterally manufactured as opposed to the one they were using. A curious, but somewhat ineffective argument tactic in this case.

    • Frank33 says:

      Otherwise, you are all tearing apart the integrity of an academic researcher with allegations of corruption and falsification that will cause permanent injury to his career.

      I myself have no problem calling Gruber a Corrupt Enabler Of Corporate Criminals. I am sure Gruber will be richly rewarded for his bogus propaganda. Oh wait he already is being rewarded for his lying crap by us taxpayers. This is the same as the Irak War propaganda, by SAIC and Burson Marstellar, and the rest of those highly paid traitors.

      The Obama Privatized Health Insurance is a fraud. It was based on private deals with PhRMA. Obama’s Bill was written by the Health Insurance lobbyists. So Gruber is an economist. That makes him an expert on…nothing. What does he know about medical science. Nothing.

      Goddam You To Hell, Gruber. You are just another neo-con pig.

  17. orionATL says:

    ondelette @54

    you’re definitely not a very acute observer of the academic world.

    “corruption” or “falsification” are often but a blip on the cv of a famous academic.

    why don’t you address the issue of whether, in your opinion, gruber did or did not properly disclose his play-for-pay scheme with the obama admin?

    what do you think, ondelette?

    how do you feel about the obama admin (HHS) buying the services of an academic for 300K+ quid?

    that o.k. with you?

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Gruber put his credibility on the line based on his own failure to disclose his conflicts, the questionable nature of his contract with the feds, and his happy, sometimes erroneous assumptions and analysis.

    As a top academic in Boston, Gruber has mastered the art of academic intrigue, so a few public quibbles will not affect his standing. Substantive questions about the propriety of his non-disclosure and holes in his analysis might. We’d like those pursued rather than have them fobbed off as “politicizing policy” or as political disagreement with his choices.

    Both of those are inescapable attributes of policymaking, which the White House seems intent on avoiding in order “to win”. What they win and what we will get in exchange seem destined to be dramatically different things.

  19. transparait says:

    Lol, really. Fuck his career. He’s a well-paid shill for Obama and the insurance companies, I should make sad faces for his career and reputation? Poor baby?

  20. marcopolo says:

    so a few public quibbles will not affect his standing. Substantive questions about the propriety of his non-disclosure and holes in his analysis might

    Nothing will derail this bill unless it’s taken up by the MSM, but discrediting Gruber for the careerist that he is in the eyes of his colleagues would be step in the right direction.