Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430
The Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has found evidence that the nation’s drug czar and his deputies traveled to almost two dozen events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The taxpayer-financed trips were orchestrated by President George W. Bush’s political advisors and often combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members.
A November 20, 2006 memo from Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, summarizes the travel Drug Czar John Walters took at her request. Of the 26 events, all were with Republicans in close races. An agency e-mail sent the following day describes how Karl Rove commended his agency (and three cabinet departments — Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture) for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in making “surrogate appearances” at locations the e-mail described as “the god awful places we sent them.”
That e-mail, as well as e-mails that followed, show that ONDCP officials were proud of the commendation they received from Mr. Rove and the political travel they took using taxpayer dollars. According to ONDCP’s liaison to the White House, Douglas Simon, “…;our hard work…;in preparing the Director and Deputies for their trips and events” allowed them to travel “thousands of miles to attend numerous events all across the country.”
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is expected to have hearings on the matter later this month.
“This is shocking evidence that the Drug Czar, John Walters, and President Bush were scratching each other’s backs,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization working for alternatives to the war on drugs. “Walters used taxpayer money to campaign for Republicans, while President Bush ignored the agency’s failures and increased funding for programs his own analysts determined were ineffective.”
Numerous government-funded studies found that the government’s anti-marijuana ad campaign and student drug testing program are ineffective, yet the Bush Administration continues to request funding increases for those programs.
The recently released memos and e-mails are only the latest evidence that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) uses taxpayer money to influence voters. During a 2000 federal lawsuit evidence surfaced showing that ONDCP created its billion dollar anti-marijuana TV ad campaign to influence voters to reject state medical marijuana ballot measures. The drug czar and his staff are also routinely accused of using taxpayer money to travel to states in order to convince voters and legislators to reject drug policy reform.
During the 2002 election, for instance, ONDCP’s campaigning on a Nevada ballot initiative was so intense that the state’s Attorney General complained in a letter to the Nevada Secretary of State 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.”
“How long will the drug czar use taxpayer money to influence voters before Congress takes action,” asked Piper.