In last month's elections, for the first time in recent years more drug reform initiatives lost than won. Why those defeats occurred is the subject of much debate, but there are few who would fail to include the role of an energized and organized opposition spearheaded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov) and its director, drug czar John Walters. Walters crisscrossed the country in the months leading up to the elections, making stops in states such as Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio to campaign against reform efforts. Now the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) is fighting back, charging Walters with violating federal and state election laws.
MPP executive director Rob Kampia drew a bead directly on Walters' forehead in a press release preceding a press conference on Thursday, December 5. "During the fall campaign, John Walters declared war on the law and war on the truth," Kampia said. "Today, on behalf of US taxpayers -- including the 5,000 who contributed to our campaign -- we are declaring war on the drug czar for his illegal and dishonest activities. In filing this official complaint, we are calling for the removal of John Walters from office for gross violations of the Hatch Act." The Hatch Act, originally enacted in 1887, bars federal employees from carrying out certain campaign-related activities.
"Walters has committed numerous crimes against the taxpayers," Kampia added. "He used his official authority to affect the outcome of the Question 9 election, as well as other state drug policy initiatives, in plain violation of the Hatch Act. Because none of this activity was properly reported as campaign contributions, he is in equally plain violation of Nevada campaign finance laws. Walters conducted a campaign of lies against Question 9, using the taxpayers' money to spread misinformation."
In Nevada, where MPP and its affiliate, Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement (http://www.nrle.org) were fighting a tough battle to win a groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiative, Walters dropped in twice, once in July and once -- just weeks before the election -- in October. On both occasions, he was in full campaign mode, making stump speeches designed to elicit press coverage and even pressing his case in meetings with major state newspaper editorial boards.
During the latter visit, Walters was in a high dudgeon about the measure. "This is a con, and it's insulting to the voters of the state in which it is presented," he said in one widely reported speech. "We have a momentous decision in this state. We saw the problem that marijuana was massively underestimated in the public mind and if we didn't do anything it would grow," he said. "That's why I came."
"This is the most extreme ballot issue they've done so far," he continued, deriding the measure's backers as "misguided people who have a lot of money and decided to make this state a guinea pig." Referring to a pro-marijuana reform television ad featuring a retired Las Vegas police officer, he told reporters: "You probably know some goofballs in journalism, too."
And while Walters complained mightily about wealthy backers of the initiative, he and his office were not lacking in funds to throw at the campaign. Jet travel isn't cheap, and neither is the anti-marijuana advertising campaign his office directs. Budgeted at $180 million this year, the ad campaign was in full swing throughout the run-up to the election, treating Nevada voters (and everyone else) to messages about marijuana and terrorism, marijuana and gang shootings, and marijuana and accidental shootings. The taxpayers' money was being used to finance an electoral campaign against the Nevada initiative.
By all appearances, Walters was out to defeat Question 9 in Nevada. That is certainly how it looks to the Marijuana Policy Project, which is crying foul. At a Wednesday press conference, MPP announced it will file a formal "complaint of possible prohibited personnel practice" with the federal Office of Special Counsel, charging Walters with violating federal law by using "his official authority and influence for the purpose of... affecting the result of an election" -- namely, the election that included Question 9, MPP's Nevada marijuana initiative.
MPP also used the occasion to publicly release a letter to the Nevada Secretary of State's office charging that Walters violated state campaign finance laws by campaigning against the initiative without properly reporting his activities to the state.
Walters also arguably exceeded his drug czar mandate. According to the ONDCP web site: "The principal purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation's drug control program." Not the state of Nevada's marijuana laws. The web site job description continues: "By law, the Director of ONDCP also evaluates, coordinates, and oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies and ensures that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities." Again, there is nothing in that language about trying to shape electoral campaigns about drug policy issues.
But the drug warriors are not known for their observance of proprieties. The complaint by MPP may finally begin to confront the drug war's front man -- and his un-indicted co-conspirators -- with the fear of legal consequences for their misdeeds. Moral suasion sure hasn't worked.
Note: Yesterday's "mini-bulletin" stated that Kampia was to be interviewed on "The O'Reilly Factor" yesterday. As often happens on TV news, the interview was rescheduled, for December 20.