Move Would Let Drug Czar Campaign

Move Would Let Drug Czar Campaign
Posted by CN Staff on May 22, 2003 at 17:09:56 PT
By Damon Chappie, Roll Call Staff 
Source: Roll Call 
House Republicans are attempting to lift long-standing restrictions on a $1 billion anti-drug advertising program in a move that would allow the White House to use taxpayer funds to engage in partisan political activities and campaign against candidates or ballot measures favoring the legalization of drugs.The provision was quietly tucked into a bill reauthorizing the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and is set for markup today before the House Government Reform Committee.Currently, the office and its director, who is commonly referred to as the drug czar, are barred by law from using their annual $195 million anti-drug advertising budget for partisan, political purposes. 
Under language included in a reauthorization bill authored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), the prohibition would be lifted when the ONDCP director is acting "to oppose an attempt to legalize the use" of any illegal drug. The measure was approved last week by the Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources. As written, the provision would allow partisan radio, print and television ads if the purpose were to oppose the legalization of drug use. Critics said that any candidate or political party that adopts a position promoting such reforms as allowing the medical use of marijuana or reducing drug sentencing provisions could face a government-sponsored advertising campaign against them in the electoral battlefield.Last year, for example, Rep. Barney Frank ( D-Mass. ) sponsored legislation that would limit federal intervention aimed at states or localities that adopted ballot measures less restrictive than current law in dealing with marijuana use. Under the eased advertising restrictions, the drug-control office could presumably use television ads against Frank, critics of the proposal said.The provision would also allow the drug czar to campaign against state and local ballot initiatives seeking to ease restrictions on various aspects of drug policy."In plain English, the subcommittee has created a political slush fund with a billion dollars of our tax money," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that favors reform of laws that criminalize the use of marijuana."If this provision stands, it means that the drug czar can use our tax dollars to fund partisan political campaigns anytime he can justify it as 'opposing drug legalization.' Any administration of any party will have a blank check to run taxpayer-funded attack ads against their opponents, and all they have to do is claim they're opposing drug legalization." Bill Piper, associate director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said "this would be like the [Internal Revenue Service] running ads against tax-cut proposals and the candidates that support them. Using public money to tell people how to think and feel about policy is the definition of propaganda."A GOP committee aide defended the proposed revision as an effort to protect the federal drug prevention advertising campaign from being classified as political activity in states or locales where ballot initiatives related to the legalization of marijuana are being considered. "What we are simply trying to clarify is that the regular operation of the media campaign, when it gets into things that some people want to claim and construe as political, is not political," the aide said.Last fall in Nevada, John Walters, the current director of the drug policy office, campaigned against a ballot initiative that would have largely decriminalized marijuana possession for adults. After the initiative was defeated, the Marijuana Policy Project filed a complaint with state election officials against Walters for failing to comply with Nevada's campaign finance disclosure laws, which require "the reporting of contributions and expenses for every person or group of persons organized formally or informally who advocates the passage or defeat of a question or group of questions on the ballot at any election." In an April 21 opinion which found that Walters was likely immune from complying with state campaign laws as a federal official, the state's attorney general, Brian Sandoval, nonetheless concluded that "it is unfortunate that a representative of the federal government substantially intervened in a matter that was clearly a State of Nevada issue. The excessive federal intervention that was exhibited in this instance is particularly disturbing because it sought to influence the outcome of a Nevada election." The GOP aide said Souder was expected to offer an amendment during Thursday's markup to "tighten" the provision by including an"express advocacy" test that is even now at the center of a major constitutional battle in the litigation over the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.The aide, who did not make a copy of the amendment available, said it would make clear that advertising that "does not expressly advocate support for or defeat of a candidate or ballot initiative in any election" would be allowed. This would mean that the heated legal dispute over what constitutes a genuine issue ad, as opposed to an electioneering ad, would be thrust into the drug-control policy debate. The Supreme Court test to define express advocacy - known in the campaign finance world as the "magic words" that forthrightly state an electoral position after the 1974 Buckley case - is at the center of the fight between speech and reform advocates. The aide acknowledged difficulty with such a definition. "The problem is that the whole area is so slippery when you try to define it. And the campaign finance people have this problem." But Piper said that the modified provision would still be just as bad. "It's still allowing the White House to use taxpayer money for issue ads. At the end of the day it really doesn't make that much difference if you go into a district and say, 'Congressman Smith has the wrong position on drugs.' If you do it a month before the election, voters understand what you mean." Note: From the Congressional Quarterly's web update late today: The House Government Reform Committee, seeking to stem a controversy over use of government funds for anti-drug advertising, postponed a markup today of legislation to reauthorize the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Panel Democrats objected to a provision in the bill (HR 2086) authorizing a $1 billion anti-drug media campaign. They feared the bill could lead to the use of federal drug-fighting funds for advertising that targets ballot initiatives seeking to legalize marijuana or candidates advocating reduced sentences for drug crimes, or other partisan purposes. "I hope that everyone would agree that we don't want the head of the drug office to be involved in politics," said ranking Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California. Bill sponsor Mark Souder, R-Ind., said that was not his intent. "We do not believe it should be used for partisan political purposes," he said. Souder promised to work on revising the language to address concerns of Democrats. Also: DPR organization representatives who were there tell MAP that the many calls and faxes from constituents was mentioned in this morning's hearings. Your actions had impact! News article courtesy of Mapinc.: Roll Call (DC) Author: Damon Chappie, Roll Call Staff Published: Thursday, May 22, 2003Copyright: 2003 Roll Call Inc. Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Sites:Marijuana Policy Project Drug Policy Alliance House GOP Targets Medical Marijuana States Initiatives - Daniel Forbes
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Comment #6 posted by Dan B on May 23, 2003 at 04:22:52 PT:
Thanks, RevHappy
Evidently, RevHappy came up with the idea I posted in comment 5 already in response to another article on this matter. I thought I'd acknowledge that--give credit where it is due.Also, a clarification on "gone down to defeat": of course, these points are actually postponed, as noted by FoM, GCW, and several others. So, it is a minor victory, and may be short-lived, but at least it shows us that we can get the congresspeople to think about these things.I'm sure we'll all be back to send letters/emails/faxes/phone calls in a couple of weeks when the new version of this bill comes out.Dan B
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Comment #5 posted by Dan B on May 23, 2003 at 04:03:22 PT:
Breaking My Silence
Hello, folks. I thought I'd step in to say a word about this story. It seems to me that the introduction of this bill is an admission of the Attorney General's wrongdoing in his campaigning against ballot measures in Nevada, Arizona and elsewhere in 2002. This bill should be cited as new evidence against this administration with regard to its meddling in state matters and should serve as new ammunition against the Attorney General in criminal hearings related to that meddling and misuse of taxpayer funds.By the way, thanks GCW for posting that article. I am glad to see that this bill has gone down to defeat. I wonder if that defeat will do anything to hinder the Attorney General's current policy of illegally campaigning against state ballot measures, using his title and taxpayer funds to do so. I doubt it, but it's still a victory, at least symbolically.I hope all is well for all of you.Sincerely,Dan B
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Comment #4 posted by The GCW on May 22, 2003 at 19:52:29 PT
Update from Drug Policy Alliance
Friends, Supporters, and Members,Good News! Congress heard your calls. After a very contentious 
hearing today on the ONDCP Reauthorization bill, the Government 
Reform Committee decided to postpone voting on the bill. They 
postponed the vote specifically because of the troubling provisions 
we oppose: legislation that would give bureaucrats the power to 
use taxpayer money to defeat pro-reform ballot measures and 
candidates; and the diversion of millions of dollars from fighting 
major drug traffickers to arresting AIDS and Cancer patients that 
use medical marijuana. This is a huge victory - it means they don't have the votes needed 
to pass it as written. Many Congressional offices have told us their phones have been 
ringing off the hook. We've lobbied Members of Congress, organized 
resistance, and got the media to shine a light on this legislation, 
but none of it would have mattered without Members of Congress 
hearing directly from you. You made the difference! Thank you, thank 
you, thank you. Of course, we're not out of the water yet. Congress returns the week 
of June 2 and there is still a fight ahead to remove the grievous 
provisions. We'll continue to lobby hard in DC and will let you know 
in a couple of weeks when we need you to call or fax again.Thanks again for your support.Bill Piper 
Associate Director of National AffairsPS. the following article was on the front-page of today's Roll Call, 
a DC newspaper that every Member of Congress and Congressional staffer 
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on May 22, 2003 at 19:23:41 PT
I think there was a small misunderstanding and I posted what was said on this thread. I think it was only postponed but that's good too because they didn't like the bill.
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Comment #2 posted by Drexl on May 22, 2003 at 19:19:12 PT
Good news
It apears, acording to my ASA e-mailing, that this bill HR 2086 has been defeated in committie. Good news indeed.
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Comment #1 posted by ekim on May 22, 2003 at 18:49:25 PT
who will stop this squandering of taxpayer money
we kill over 100 million cows a year here for food. we ck only 1 percent for mad cow. yet we are talking about spending billions on a failed drug war. sounds like the madnes is allready here.
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