Thursday, September 18, 2008

Have the state DAs broken campaign Finance Laws?

From AP:

Backers of Mass. Pro-pot Issue Take On Opponents

teve LeBlanc, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON — Backers of a pro-marijuana ballot initiative charged Wednesday that 11 district attorneys from Massachusetts violated campaign finance laws and twisted the truth about the question.

Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy said the DAs raised and spent money to oppose the question before forming their Coalition to Save Our Streets. Campaign finance laws require groups to form a committee before raising and spending money.

The question would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil rather than criminal offense punishable by a $100 fine.

Opponents say such a change in law would essentially normalize use of marijuana, while supporter say it would reduce a burden on the criminal justice system by sparing those found with small amounts from facing a criminal record and jail.

Taylor's group has filed complaints with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Attorney General's office against the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the public relations firm hired to handle opposition to the question.

"This was an attempt to keep their organization as covert as they could for as long a possible," Taylor said. The group also named Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz individually.

The district attorneys planned their own press conference later Wednesday.

Taylor said state records show the district attorneys began raising money as early as July 18, but didn't file a statement of organization with the state until Sept. 5.

Taylor's group has raised far greater sums than the district attorney's group, according to campaign finance reports.

The district attorneys raised just $27,670, virtually all of it from their own campaign accounts, while Taylor group has raised nearly $650,000.

The vast majority of the money raised by Taylor's group came from outside Massachusetts, including a $400,000 donation from billionaire financier and liberal activist George Soros and $180,000 from the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Taylor also faulted the district attorneys for using their state web site to urge voters to oppose the question, and for misrepresenting the initiative.

In a statement on the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association web site, the district attorneys say if the question is approved "any person may carry and use marijuana at any time, thus 'normalizing' its use."

The district attorneys and other critics say the question could threaten recent positive trends in marijuana use among teens. They also said there's a link between marijuana use and crime, car accidents and workplace safety.

"Do you really want to encourage your kids to smoke dope?" a statement on the DA's web site reads in part.

The district attorneys also said that existing law is fair.

Massachusetts law requires that a first-time drug offender be placed on probation and that, at the successful conclusion of probation, "the case shall be dismissed and the record shall be sealed," according to their statement.

If the question is approved, Massachusetts would become the 13th state to lift or ease criminal penalties on marijuana possession.

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