January 7, 2005

Bush's Drug Videos Broke Law, Accountability Office Decides

By JOHN FILES

 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 - The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said on Thursday that the Bush administration violated federal law by producing and distributing television news segments about the effects of drug use among young people.

The accountability office said the videos "constitute covert propaganda" because the government was not identified as the source of the materials, which were distributed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They were broadcast by nearly 300 television stations and reached 22 million households, the office said.

The accountability office does not have law enforcement powers, but its decisions on federal spending are usually considered authoritative.

In May the office found that the Bush administration had violated the same law by producing television news segments that portrayed the new Medicare law as a boon to the elderly.

The accountability office was not critical of the content of the video segments from the White House drug office, but found that the format - a made-for-television "story package" - violated the prohibition on using taxpayer money for propaganda.

Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Government Reform Committee, who requested the review, said the use of the mock news segments broke "a fundamental principle of open government."

A spokesman for the drug policy office said the review's conclusions made a "mountain out of a molehill."

The spokesman, Tom Riley, noted that Congress had authorized the drug policy office to fashion antidrug messages in motion pictures and television programming and on the Internet. His office stopped distributing the antidrug videos after the G.A.O. report on the Medicare segments, Mr. Riley said, and never acted unlawfully.

The drug policy office told investigators that it would have been difficult for "a reasonable broadcaster" to mistake the videos for independent news reports.

But the G.A.O. said the drug policy office "made it impossible for the targeted viewing audience to ascertain that these stories were produced by the government."

Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for "publicity or propaganda purposes" not authorized by Congress. The accountability office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they distributed editorials and newspaper articles written by government officials without identifying them.

The accountability office said the administration's misuse of federal money "also constitutes a violation of the Antideficiency Act," which prohibits spending in excess of appropriations.

 

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