In April, a powerful member of Congress introduced a bill that would punish the donors of organizations that advocate legalizing certain unlawful activities. In this instance, the targets aren't people who bankroll rural militias; instead the congressman wants to zero in on supporters of the Reason Foundation (publishers of REASON), the Cato Institute, the Drug Policy Foundation, and any other tax-exempt group that promotes drug legalization.
On April 6, Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, proposed HR 1453, a bill that would revoke the tax-exempt status of any organization "if any portion of the activities of such organization consists of promoting the legalization of any controlled substance." Solomon promised to attach his proposal as an amendment to some other bill that's likely to pass.
In a vitriolic statement Solomon entered in the Congressional Record, he singled out "the libertarian elites at the Cato Institute" and the "deceptive, sinister, and seedy" Drug Policy Foundation as two examples of groups that have placed "the American family…under attack" by advocating an end to prohibition.
Solomon would also move beyond revoking the tax-exempt status of organizations; he would instruct the Internal Revenue Service to hunt down their donors. "These organizations and the individuals involved with them are violating United States Tax Code," he said. "They need to be investigated and their contributors should be required to pay taxes on past contributions." The bill would affect not only policy organizations but other nonprofits, including, for instance, drug treatment clinics, universities, and religious groups.
Phil Gutis, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union, calls Solomon's bill "patently unconstitutional. The [Supreme] Court has been very clear that you can't punish individuals or organizations for what they advocate….The only goal of this bill is to prevent advocacy."
Gutis says conservative drug warriors like Solomon should be careful before they push new restrictions on advocacy. A legislative mechanism that lets the feds punish advocates of drug legalization today, he says, could later be used to punish persons "because they belong to the [National Rifle Association] or subscribe to Soldier of Fortune."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Speech Code".