O&M's US Anti-Drugs Biz Under Threat from Senate Bill

07 November 2003

Senators are preparing legislation to strip Ogilvy & Mather of its US anti-drug advertising duties.

A bill due to be introduced into the Senate this week would force the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy - which spends around $150 million (€131.4m; £89.7m) a year on the anti-drugs effort - to terminate O&M's contract within 90 days or take up an option not to renew the arrangement. The measure is sponsored by senators Joseph Biden (Democrat, Delaware), Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah).

The WPP Group agency has come under fire in Congress since its controversial reappointment to the account last year. Few expected O&M to win when the duties were put up for review following claims the shop had altered timesheets and overcharged the ONDCP [WAMN: 05-Oct-00]. Although the agency refuted the allegations, pleading unfamiliarity with government accounting procedures, it eventually settled the matter with the Justice Department at a cost of $1.8m.

Despite the overbilling furore, O&M won a new year-long contract with four renewal options [WAMN: 05-Jul-02]. But the Senate bill, which reauthorises the spending on the anti-drugs campaign, includes language that would bar O&M from the account.

The draft reads: "A corporation, partnership or individual shall not be considered a bidder for the contract if within the previous 10 year period … [it has] settled any federal, civil or potential proceeding instituted by the United States."

In addition, the legislation would for the first time hand the Partnership for a Drug-Free America an equal say in the "overall purposes and strategy of the campaign." The Partnership - a non-profit coalition of professionals from the communications industry - organises pro bono creative for the campaign.

The bill also calls for a one-year audit by the General Accounting Office to review campaign strategy. If passed, the measure must still be reconciled with a measure already approved by the House of Representatives.

Data sourced from: AdWeek.com; additional content by WARC staff