Waiting For Sunset: The Patriot Act

9.22.2004

Tax Dollars Well Spent?

In the news recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft's use of funds for the Patriot Act tour has been called into question. The 32-city tour was launched in August 2003 to defend the act against its critics, who contend that the Patriot Act puts many of our civil liberties in danger. The first tour was the 16-city Patriot Act tour, and the second tour was the Life and Liberty tour, also for 16 cities. Speaking at events scheduled for each city, Ashcroft outlined how the Patriot Act was helping to reduce terrorism, its necessity in preventing any future attacks, and emphasized its harmlessness on citizens' rights.

The tour had receieved a lot of criticism at its birth, with libertarians saying it was propaganda to convince the public that the act was not taking away any of their individual freedoms, when in fact, some provisions are actually questionable. One of the most stinging criticisms was that the tour was only necessary because of the Patriot Act's rather troubling policies of secret searches and bolder spying techniques. But supporters of the act responded to the criticisms by stating that the purpose of the Patriot Act was to get rid of all the myths and to tell the truth to the American public about its provisions. Instead of having rumors and misconceptions about the policies enacted as a part of the Patriot Act, the Bush Administration found it a tactic to inform the uninformed.

Now, there are fresh new criticisms about Ashcroft's Patriot Act tour, but this time, it's about spending. U.S. Representative John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine to investigate the price tag on the tour. Conyers claims that Ashcroft broke laws that do not allow executive branch officials to perform publicity campaigns and grassroots lobbying, unless authorized by Congress. The Justice Department responded by saying that the Office of Legal Counsel had cleared the trips, and Ashcroft was on this tour for the people. No decision has been made on the request for an investigation; however, it was revealed on Tuesday in a review by congressional investigators at the Government Accountability Office that the tour had cost at least $208, 130. The first tour cost $152, 361 while the second cost $47, 138. In addition, the construction of the Department of Justice's website promoting the Patriot Act cost $8, 630.

Funding a multi-city tour with taxpayers' money seems rather unfair, to say the least. Whether or not there is a serious investigation that results in a probe into Ashcroft's Patriot Act tour spending will depend on several things, one being how precisely publicity campaigns and grassroots lobbying are defined by that law. But really, how confident could the Bush Administration be in a piece of legislation that is working so well to fight off terrorism if they found it necessary to have a promotional tour? Things like music concerts, new products, and competitive companies need advertising and publicity, not laws that we vote to enact. Though dispelling the myths might have been necessary, perhaps it would have been a better idea to more comprehensively inform the public prior to voting in the laws so that none of those false rumors would be flying around to begin with. More than the legality of the tours, though, is the fact that Ashcroft's tour was so expensive. Those are some valuable tax dollars being spent on something that doesn't seem as vital as other things such as, let's say, education, or healthcare, or anything else of that nature.

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