espite the attempt by Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico to force the national Mental Health Parity Act through Congress in late 1996, provisions of the law were substantially weakened.
By 1998 the grass roots lobbying machine for parity was back in force. Psychiatric associations, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) organized Walk the Walk, a march for parity in Washington, D.C., by members of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The object of the lobbying effort was the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Parity Amendments of 1998 (House Resolution 3568).
The sponsoring federal government agency, Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), paid most of the $200,000 of taxpayers monies provided by HHS for the event directly to the public relations firm of Hayes, Domenici & Associates to manage the eventthe Domenici of the firm being the Senators sister.
Aside from the ethical questions raised by the firms role, Support Coalition Internationala broad-based patients advocate networkand the Citizens Commission on Human Rightsthe psychiatric watchdog group established by the Church of Scientologyraised legal questions over payment of taxpayer monies to a private firm for the purpose of influencing members of Congress, which is expressly forbidden by federal law.
A complaint filed with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education by the president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, asking the subcommittee to investigate the matter, is pending.