Tony Newman at 212-613-8026 or Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961
A House Subcommittee approved legislation last week that contains a provision allowing the White House to spend taxpayer money on television ads to influence voters to reject drug policy reforms. If enacted, the White House could launch an unprecedented advertising campaign to influence voters with their own money, including running government-sponsored ads against state and local voter-led ballot measures. The provision is so broad it could allow the White House to use almost $1 billion in taxpayer money for partisan political purposes, which may even include government-sponsored attack ads against a candidate who takes a stand in favor of drug policy reform. The House Government Reform Committee is likely to consider the legislation this Thurs. May 22.
“Using public money to tell people how to think and feel about policy is the definition of propaganda,” said Bill Piper, associate director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This would be like the I.R.S. running ads against tax cut proposals and the candidates that support them.”
The House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources approved the controversial provision as part of HR 2086, the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2003. As written, the provision would allow partisan radio, print and television ads if the purpose were to oppose the legalization of drug use. Since the drug czar’s office believes that even modest drug policy reforms — such as diverting substance abusers to treatment, reforming harsh sentences, and making marijuana available to AIDS and cancer patients – promote the “legalization” of drug use, any candidate or party promoting such reforms could face a government-sponsored advertising campaign against them. The provision could also allow the drug czar to use taxpayer money to oppose local and state ballot measures that the drug czar doesn’t like, as well as influence voter opinion on drug policy issues.
“In the last decade, voters across the country have passed numerous laws favoring treatment instead of jail for non-violent offenders, and medical marijuana for AIDS, cancer and other patients,” said Piper. “If this provision passes, the federal government could interfere with such elections and prohibit voters from having a voice in their own state.”
The Drug Policy Alliance is urging Members of Congress to cancel the costly ad campaign and spend the money instead on drug prevention, treatment and after-school programs.