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Bush calls a halt to paying columnists for PR

WASHINGTON -- President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries yesterday not to hire columnists to promote their agendas after disclosure that a second writer was paid to research an administration initiative.

The president said he expects his agency heads will ''make sure that that practice doesn't go forward."

''All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet," Bush said at a news conference.

Bush's remarks came a day after syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher apologized to readers for not disclosing a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help create materials promoting the agency's $300 million initiative to encourage marriage.

Bush also said the White House had not been aware that the Education Department paid commentator and columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to plug its policies. That contract came to light Jan. 7.

Bush said there ''needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press."

He noted that ''we have new leadership going into the Department of Education."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings started this week, replacing Rod Paige, who served one term. Paige had ordered an investigation into whether Williams should have disclosed the deal to produce television and radio ads promoting the No Child Left Behind Act.

Williams has apologized, calling it a mistake in judgment to not disclose that he was being paid by the administration but insisting he broke no laws.

In her column Tuesday, Gallagher apologized to readers, saying that she was not paid to promote marriage but ''to produce particular research and writing products" -- articles, brochures, presentations. ''My lifelong experience in marriage research, public education, and advocacy is the reason HHS hired me," she wrote.

She said it never occurred to her to tell readers about her work for the government. ''I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."

In 2002, Gallagher contributed to an essay promoting marriage that appeared in Crisis magazine under the byline of Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at Health and Human Services.

Horn said yesterday that Gallagher was never paid to promote the president's marriage initiative in her column. ''We hired her because of her expertise in the area of marriage research in order to draw upon that expertise to help us develop materials related to healthy marriage," he said, adding that Gallagher drafted brochures and helped draft the article that was ultimately published under his name.

Gallagher got another $20,000 from a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative, using money from a Justice Department grant. Some of the money was approved while President Clinton was still in office. For that 2001 grant, she wrote a report, titled ''Can Government Strengthen Marriage?"

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