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SPECIAL REPORT: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Neo-Prohibitionist Agenda

Seventy years ago this week, beer became legal in the United States (at least beer with less than 3.2 percent alcohol content). According to the Denver Post, "it was 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt announced happily as he signed the bill authorizing repeal, 'I think this would be a good time for a beer.'" One pub in Boulder, Colorado marked the anniversary of "the end of tyranny" by serving 33-cent pints.

All that sounds jolly good, but the Philadelphia Daily News warns that "the anti-alcohol forces are out there," and wonders: "Are we facing a return to Prohibition?"

A new report from the Center for Consumer Freedom answers that question in the affirmative, and details how the new temperance movement has been conceived, coordinated, and funded by the $9 billion Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Follow the money, our report demonstrates, and you'll find that nearly every study disparaging adult beverages in the mass media, every legislative push to limit alcohol marketing or increase taxes, and every supposedly "grassroots" anti-alcohol organization leads back to Princeton, New Jersey, where RWJF is headquartered.

The most famous organization in the neo-prohibitionist cabal is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The group's name has become a misnomer, as MADD no longer dedicates its energies to tackling the scourge of drunk driving. MADD now assails drinking of every kind. Its new slogan, "impairment begins with the first drink," is carefully crafted to position alcohol as a drug which there is no way to moderately or reasonably consume.

A television spot produced by MADD depicts heroin being boiled in a spoon and sucked into a syringe while the voice-over intones about the dangers of alcohol. The effect of such an advertisement -- as MADD well knows -- is to promote the image of alcohol as a destructive, addictive, and abnormal drug that American society should not abide. This report shows that MADD has received more than $3 million from the RWJF since 1996.

The RWJF's neo-prohibitionist agenda becomes as clear as day when it funds groups that link alcohol to illicit drugs like heroin. Shortly after one anti-alcohol organization produced an advertisement depicting a bottle of beer as if it were a syringe, the RWJF made one of its directors a "Developing Leadership in Reducing Substance Abuse" fellow, which carries a $75,000 cash award. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), meanwhile, is pushing for alcohol's inclusion in the federal government's anti-drug media campaign. "Don't forget beer, the king of drugs," the group says. RWJF gave CSPI $750,000 for its anti-alcohol project in 2001 alone.

RWJF hardly limits itself to linking alcohol with illegal drugs. Many of the neo-prohibitionist activist organizations and leaders that the Center for Consumer Freedom has reported on -- and debunked -- over the years are funded by RWJF. That includes:

  • The Rand Corporation, whose studies in support of roadblocks and limiting access to alcohol are funded by RWJF.

  • Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), whose many flawed studies we've merrily refuted. CASA has received more than $35 million from RWJF since 1991.

  • The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), which exists for one purpose: to accuse the alcohol industry of "targeting" underage drinkers. RWJF established CAMY with a $5 million grant.

  • The Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention (HEC), which argues for "changing people's knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions regarding alcohol use." It also supports "reducing alcohol availability" and "reducing alcohol promotion and marketing." HEC--an agency of the federal government--receives "supplemental funding" from RWJF.

  • Ralph Hingson, MADD's Vice President of Public Policy, published a deeply flawed report claiming that alcohol causes 1,400 deaths among college students each year. Hingson received a $300,000 fellowship from RWJF.

  • Jim Gogek, an editorial writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times accusing the Governors of Maryland, New York and New Jersey of being bought and paid for by the alcohol industry because they oppose even higher "sin" taxes. Gogek is paid $25,000 a year by RWJF.

  • Richard Yoast, who wrote a report called "The Alcohol Industry: Partner or Foe?" that argues there are two kinds of people: those who abuse alcohol, and those who abstain. The former shouldn't have access to it, the argument goes, and the latter won't care if you take it away. Yoast heads the American Medical Association's Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. RWJF has given nearly $6 million to Yoast's office since 1995.

    Combine Yoast's abstainer-or-abuser conviction with the surmise that relatively convenient and inexpensive alcohol leads inexorably to its abuse, and you have yourself a theory that justifies prohibition. Combine Yoast's work with that of the Rand Corporation, Jim Gogek, CASA, the Education Department, CAMY, MADD, Hingson, and hundreds of others who gather at RWJF-funded conferences to plan their next moves, and you have a massive, neo-prohibitionist movement.

    RWJF's family of anti-alcohol warriors can't advocate prohibition directly, so it seeks instead to make alcohol prohibitively expensive through higher "sin" taxes, or prohibitively hard to come by through restrictions on where and when one may drink. The RWJF funded campaigns to ban alcohol from airports, parks, cultural events, sports stadiums, and even golf courses. It funds efforts to restrict the hours bars, restaurants, and liquor stores can stay open. And it has never met an alcohol tax it didn't like. Taken together, these efforts have been called prohibition "drip by drip."

    RWJF doesn't aim directly for Prohibition with a capital "P." Instead, it seeks to drive adult beverage consumption underground, away from mainstream culture and public places. Restraining the availability of alcohol -- and linking it to illegal drugs -- will marginalize drinking to such an extent that Prohibition will have been achieved by stealth.

    RWJF has put in place all the elements required for such sweeping change. From 1998 to 2002 it spent more than $265 million cultivating a vast network of anti-alcohol community organizations, centers for technical support, a compliant press, and a growing body of academic literature critical of even moderate alcohol consumption. The next highly publicized study or angry local movement may now reach the "tipping point" where the RWJF-funded anti-alcohol agenda snowballs into the kind of orchestrated frenzy that culminated in the 18th Amendment.

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