Newsbrief: House Speaker Dennis Hastert Defames Drug Reform Funder Soros, New Jersey DA Joins Smear Campaign 9/3/04

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In another sign of the growing nastiness of this year's presidential race, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert Sunday defamed drug reform funder George Soros on national television, wondering aloud whether the Hungarian-born billionaire financier was getting money from drug cartels and passing it on to political opponents of President George Bush. The GOP is unhappy with Soros, not because he funded some drug reform efforts, but because he has contributed millions of dollars to groups trying to defeat Bush in November. Still, that didn't stop Hastert from using Soros' interest in drug reform to try to smear him as a criminal.

Hastert's remarks came in an interview Sunday on Fox News with anchor Chris Wallace. In a discussion of 527s and other unregulated political groups active in the campaign, to some of which Soros has contributed, Hastert said, "You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where -- if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from."

An astonished Chris Wallace asked: "Excuse me?" Hastert continued: "Well, that's what he's been for a number of years -- George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there."

Wallace then asked, "You think he may be getting money from the drug cartels?" To which Hastert replied, "I'm saying I don't know where groups -- could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know."

Soros responded quickly and angrily. In a fax sent Tuesday to Hastert's office and excerpted by Capitol Hill trade paper The Hill, Soros wrote, "Your recent comments implying that I am receiving funds from drug cartels are not only untrue, but also deeply offensive. You do a discredit to yourself and to the dignity of your office by engaging in these dishonest smear tactics. You should be ashamed."

Then Soros called Hastert on the claims. "I must respectfully insist that you either substantiate these claims -- which you cannot do because they are false -- or publicly apologize for attempting to defame my character and damage my reputation," he wrote.

When given a second chance to back down Tuesday by The Hill, a Hastert spokesman instead stayed the slanderous course. "George Soros has an agenda," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery. "He supports the legalization of drugs, and the statement stands. [Hastert] has been fighting Soros on this for years because it is a character flaw. The Speaker thinks legalizing drugs is wrong."

[Editor's Note: Soros has in fact not taken a legalization position, but his Open Society Institute has attempted to foster debate on drug policy reform by funding organizations espousing a range of viewpoints -- some entirely mainstream, such as the group Drug Strategies, headed by Carter-era drug policy official Mathea Falco; some anti-prohibitionist, such as DRCNet; most somewhere in between.]

[Second Editor's Note: If it is a character flaw to advocate or discuss drug legalization, then it is a character flaw shared by some of the nation's most prominent conservatives, including long-time National Review leader William F. Buckley, Reagan administration secretary of state George Shultz and Nobel laureate economist and free market advocate Milton Friedman. When Hastert and his spokesman insulted Soros in that way, by extension they also insulted a large portion of the Republican base that leans libertarian or is thoughtful on this issue for other reasons.]

And if frontal attacks on national TV weren't enough, Soros is also enduring sniping from New Jersey drug czar-wannabe Terrance Farley. An assistant prosecutor in Ocean County, Farley is a prolific prohibitionist propagandist, filling column-inch after column-inch with his diatribes against drug reform of any stripe. In his latest broadside, an attack against critics of mandatory minimum sentences published Sunday in the Ocean County Observer, Farley wrote that Soros' objective "is to legalize all drugs." But then, in bit of bizarre demagoguery, Farley added that the reason Soros wants to "legalize all drugs" is to "deflate the alleged supremacy of the United States in the world."

But wait, there's more, and it suggests that Hastert's attack on Soros is not an aberration. Other Republicans have also been attacking Soros, such as GOPAC, a GOP political action committee, which veered uncomfortably close to the fetid terrain of anti-Semitism when it wrote on its web site last year that Soros, a Jew, was a "descendant of Shylock," the Jewish banker in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" who was so venal he would cut human flesh to repay loans. And Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley also contributed to the campaign against Soros, calling him "a robber baron, he's a pirate capitalist, and he's a reckless man" -- ironic language from a conservative capitalism enthusiast.

Welcome to campaign 2004, Mr. Soros. To be fair to the Republicans, though, their leaders are not the only ones to have publicly attacked drug reformers. After Colombian attorney general Gustavo de Greiff, just having defeated notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel after several of his predecessors had failed, came out for legalization, John Kerry, then chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee, responded by saying that the US "must engage in a major rethinking of its relationship with law enforcement in Colombia" and that "the situation is a serious one and requires the US to consider its options under the circumstances," according to an alert issued 10 years ago by The Drug Policy Foundation, predecessor organization to the Drug Policy Alliance, in defense of de Greiff.

Footage of Dennis Hastert's slanders of George Soros can be viewed at http://www.dailyrecycler.com/blog/2004/08/hastert-v-soros.html online.

Footage of Dennis Hastert's slanders of George Soros can be viewed at http://www.dailyrecycler.com/blog/2004/08/hastert-v-soros.html online.

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Issue #352, 9/3/04 Editorial: Back Home in Indiana | In Indiana, Gubernatorial Candidates' College Marijuana Use Provides Opening for Discussion of Higher Education Act Drug Provision | Outgoing New Jersey Governor Calls for Needle Access Legislation | Kentucky's New Drug Strategy: More of the Same, Plus a Drug Czar | Montana Moving Toward Appointing a Drug Czar? | Newsbrief: Alaska Supreme Court Restricts Marijuana Search Warrants | Newsbrief: European Drug Reformers Seek More Dialogue with European Union, Funding for Permanent Dialogue | Newsbrief: House Speaker Dennis Hastert Defames Drug Reform Funder Soros, New Jersey DA Joins Smear Campaign | Newsbrief: Human Rights Watch Calls on Schwarzenneger to Sign Needle Access Bills | Newsbrief: Marijuana Policy Ads Return to DC Following Court Victory | Newsbrief: Safe Crack-Smoking Kits Distributed in Winnipeg | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Ninety-nine Percent of All Marijuana Eradicated in US is Feral Hemp, Federal Data Reveals | This Week in History | The Reformer's Calendar
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