CONGRESS RECOMMENDS $145 MILLION FOR DRUG OFFICE

Budget Cut Less Than Expected; Ogilvy's Fate Uncertain

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The White House youth anti-drug ad campaign apparently won't have have to be scaled back as much as first feared.

A House-Senate conference committee last night recommended a $145 million appropriation for the campaign, a figure far closer to the House's $150 million figure than the Senate's $100 million. President Bush had requested $170 million for the campaign, after receiving $150 million last year.

Higher budgets in past
In past years, the campaign's budget has

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been between $175 million and $180 million.

Not all the money appropriated has been spent on advertising, as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy used some of it to fund studies of the advertising's effectiveness and public relations activities to support the ad campaign. In turn, spending on non-media activities has drawn congressional scrutiny.

The conference committee required 78% of the new money go toward actual media buying. WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, handles the campaign, while the Partnership for a Drug-Free America produces most of the advertising.

Pending legislation
Ogilvy's future on the account, meanwhile, has yet to be determined. A draft of legislation reauthorizing the ad campaign being drawn by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would require the contract be re-bid, with Ogilvy -- which settled charges for $1.8 million that it overbilled the government -- excluded. That legislation, however, had yet to be introduced as of this morning and action on it won't take place until next year.

While the idea of the ad campaign has some strong congressional backing, some legislators have questioned the campaign's effectiveness, as have some groups backing legalized marijuana use.

"We continue to believe that the appropriate funding level is zero, as this program is a proven failure according to the surveys designated by Congress as measures of ONDCP's success," Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said today.

Final vote uncertain
Despite the conference committee's approval of the drug office spending as part of a transportation and postal appropriations bill, there was some confusion today on whether the overall measure would proceed to a final vote next week.

Congress is going in two directions to fund the government, moving ahead on individual appropriations bills for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 -- like the one containing the drug office money -- while also preparing a catchall bill to temporarily authorize continued spending at last year's levels if agreement can't be reached on individual bills.

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