In a startling discovery of what appears to reek of the stench of collusion, a Congressional committee has discovered 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. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, alleged that the taxpayer-financed trips were orchestrated by President 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, summarized the travel Drug Czar John Walters took at her request. Of the almost 20 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 the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) officials were proud of the commendation they received from Rove and the political travel they took using taxpayer dollars. According to ONDCP’s liaison to the White House, Douglas Simon, “our hard workin 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 ONDCP by law is obliged to be non-partisan and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is expected to have hearings on the matter later this month.
The accusation that Drug Czar John Walters and President Bush were scratching each other’s backs for financial and political gain was shocking, even in current cesspool of Washington, D.C. politics. 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. One hand washes the other.
Numerous government-funded studies have 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 ONDCP uses taxpayer money to influence voters. During 2000 federal lawsuit evidence surfaced showing that ONDCP’s billion dollar anti-marijuana TV ad campaign was created 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, 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.”
More recently, ONDCP bureaucrats traveled to New Mexico at least four times in 12 months–at taxpayer expense–to lobby state legislators to oppose medical marijuana legislation. Fortunately, the legislators ignored them and seriously ill people in New Mexico finally have access to legal medical marijuana.
The president continues to blatantly compromise the integrity of his administration for political gain, legality and ethics be damned. Two questions should be asked. How long will the drug czar and other public servants continue to use taxpayer money to influence voters on behalf of the Republican party before Congress takes action to stop this clearly unethical and illegal action? President Bush: how long will you fund costly, ineffective and harmful policies as a quid pro quo to secure a few votes?
Bill Piper is National Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
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