Ketchum-DoE deal incites demand for investigations

WASHINGTON: Ketchum's work with pundit Armstrong Williams on behalf of the Department of Education (DoE) has prompted calls for investigation by members of Congress and speculation about how the latest flap will affect its reputation.

WASHINGTON: Ketchum's work with pundit Armstrong Williams on behalf of the Department of Education (DoE) has prompted calls for investigation by members of Congress and speculation about how the latest flap will affect its reputation.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) wrote in an e-mail to PRWeek that he and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to expand an existing investigation to explore the legality of the deal between Williams, the DoE, and Ketchum.

The GAO is already investigating alleged misuse of taxpayer funds for publicity or propaganda purposes in other work involving the No Child Left Behind bill, the DoE, and Ketchum, he noted.

Lautenberg wrote that the blame for the Williams case "lies squarely with the Bush Administration."

"This is not a Ketchum problem," he wrote. "This is a Bush administration problem."

Still, Lautenberg asserted that he would support a full investigation of all contracts between Ketchum and government agencies.

According to the AP, Lautenberg only agreed to allow a confirmation vote of Secretary of Education nominee Margaret Spellings after she promised to review promotional tactics used by the DoE.

In addition, a number of senators and advocacy groups have requested investigations into all past DoE and federal PR contracts.

Last week, Ketchum released a statement to the trade media, it's only public comment on the situation aside from an interview with PRWeek and an op-ed by CEO Ray Kotcher. In the statement, the firm admitted its work with Williams violated industry and company guidelines.

"It is clear that we should have encouraged greater disclosure," it read. "There was a lapse of judgment in this situation. We regret that this has occurred."

Ketchum has declined to reveal who acted as the lead on the account at the time of the Williams agreement, saying only that the person no longer works with the agency. It is not known who currently heads the account.

Ketchum's non-government clients, meanwhile, are largely remaining mum on the topic.

David Sandor, director of PR for The Home Depot, said the controversy "has had no impact" on the chain's relationship with the firm. Cingular, Clorox, ConAgra, FedEx, and Genentech did not return calls for comment.

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