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Drug Czar Ad Budget Deal Sought

House Republicans will try again this week to transform a federally funded $1 billion ad budget into a campaign war chest for the White House drug czar to use against candidates and ballot measures seeking to legalize marijuana.

The controversial provision is part of a broader bill reauthorizing the National Drug Control Policy Office. A May 22 markup in the Government Reform Committee fell apart amid objections to the provision by Democrats.

A markup has been scheduled for Thursday. However, it is unclear whether any progress had been made in reaching a compromise.

Currently, the drug control office and its director, commonly referred to as the drug czar, are barred by law from using an annual $195 million anti-drug advertising budget for partisan, political purposes.

Under language in a reauthorization bill offered by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), the prohibition would be lifted when the ONDCP director is acting “to oppose an attempt to legalize the use” of any illegal substance.

“We are negotiating,” said committee spokesman Dave Marin. “We’re confident that come markup on Thursday we’ll have bipartisan support for language that makes it clear that no media campaign funds can advocate support for or defeat of any candidate or ballot initiative.”

Several Democrats, however, expressed skepticism about a compromise.

“I certainly hope that this provision will be deleted,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “Taxpayer money should not be used for partisan, political purposes. It’s just bad policy.”

Marin declined to reveal the specific language being negotiated. But another committee aide described it as an express advocacy test akin to the controversial rules governing the regulation of political ads under federal election law. Express advocacy, as defined by the Supreme Court, means that the ad contains a phrase like “vote for” or “vote against.”

The battle over the legalization is being fought in the states. But critics fear that even federal candidates who advocate legalization could be targeted in ads run by the drug czar.