Tale of Two Admins: Trump Admin Paying Political Consultants Raised 'Ethical Questions,' But No Big Deal For Biden

Veteran Dem political consultant Mandy Grunwald received thousands of dollars for virtual sessions

CDC director Rochelle Walensky / Twitter screenshot
July 29, 2022

The administration directing taxpayer funds to political consulting firms is not the scandal it used to be.

A Politico report this week on the Biden administration spending tens of thousands of dollars for a Democratic political consultant to do media training for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky was treated as a non-scandal. The spending was revealed by the outlet in its Wednesday night West Wing Playbook newsletter, with two experts quoted who both credited Walensky for enlisting help.

"Kudos to her for understanding that that is actually important to prioritize," said one, with the other noting that, while the spending "seems extravagant to most lay people," it's really quite reasonable.

The previous administration wasn't given the same pass. When the Trump administration's Department of Health and Human Services paid a consulting firm run by Republican operatives for "strategic communications" support, Politico in March 2019 published 2,000 words on the spending and said it raised "ethical questions." The coverage pushed the Trump administration to suspend the contract in question. Critics of Trump said the spending was an example of the administration's "routine corruption."

The Biden administration's payments for Walensky's media training were for explicitly political purposes. It brought in veteran liberal operative Mandy Grunwald's firm to virtually train Walensky after she faced criticism in liberal media for "messaging missteps," including one instance in which she said vaccinated people "do not carry" COVID-19. The missteps were hurting the flailing Biden administration in the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to Grunwald's work with Clinton, the Democratic consultant has also worked with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), and John Hickenlooper (D., Colo.). Grunwald also served as director of advertising on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. She has contributed more than $36,000 to liberal politicians and groups since 1993, federal campaign finance disclosures show.