"Unprecedented and disturbing," say critics of the Bush administration's $1.62 billion (€1.36bn; £929m) advertising jamboree.

That's the amount spent by the White House over the past two and a half years on advertising and public relations campaigns, reports the Government Accountability Office.

The spend equates to $648m annually, spread across seven White House departments, and covering 137 contracts with ad agencies, 54 contracts with PR firms, 131 contracts with media organizations and eight contracts with individual members of the media.

Presumably because of their apolitical nature, the report excludes two major government advertising programs: the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the US Postal Service.

House Democrats, who commissioned the report, leapt on its findings with glee, claiming it confirms their suspicion that much of the spending promoted the administration's political policies rather than public interest issues.

Democrats charge that the administration used video news releases that didn't identify the government as the provider of the information; paid reporters and columnists to support its programs; and used Medicare communications to promote its senior citizens' drug plan shortly before an election.

Fumed Representative George Miller (Democrat, California): "The extent of the Bush Administration's propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing. The fact is that after all the spin, the American people are stuck with high prescription-drug prices, high gas prices and high college costs.

"This report raises serious questions about this Administration's priorities for the country and I would hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree that changes need to be made to rein in the president's propaganda machine."

Agreed fellow California Democrat Henry Waxman: "Careful oversight of this spending is essential given the track record of the Bush administration, which has used taxpayer dollars to fund covert propaganda within the United States."

However, agencies on the receiving end of this presidential largesse are less inclined to debate these ethical issues. Among their number: Leo Burnett (US Army: $536m); Campbell-Ewald (US Navy: $194m); GSD&M (USAF: $179m); and Frankel & Co: (Centers for Disease Control: $133m).

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff