Saying leadership demands creative--even controversial--positions, U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Wednesday that he supports replacing the nation's income tax with a flat 20% sales tax and experimental government distribution of illegal drugs to combat crime.
The tax proposal, similar to one offered by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas), would phase out the income tax over a five-year period as the sales tax was gradually implemented, said Campbell, who wants the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein next year.
Unlike other national sales tax proposals that have been considered too burdensome on the poor, Campbell's would exempt food, medicine and the cost of housing up to the average in a given area.
Additionally, the Northern California congressman told The Times, his plan could be abandoned if it proved too disruptive to the economy.
"The importance of a gradual phaseout [of the income tax] is that if I am wrong, if I am making a mistake, we can turn it around," said Campbell, a Stanford law professor who has a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago.
"But if it does work and we are gradually phasing in [the sales tax], it would have no more than an inflation rate of 3 1/2% each year," said Campbell, who hopes that the proposal can be addressed during next year's congressional debate on taxes.
Beyond the economic implications of his proposal, Campbell said, there are other far-reaching benefits.
"Privacy and individual freedom are very big to me, and if the federal government doesn't collect data from the personal income tax . . . it tremendously increases freedom," he said. "Government doesn't have to know about you, whether you are paying alimony, receiving alimony, how many children you have, where your home is. . . . All of that becomes irrelevant."
In an even more controversial proposal, though one that he also has pushed for years, Campbell said he would encourage the federal government to permit a pilot project to distribute certain illegal drugs to addicts.
Citing what he described as a successful heroin distribution program in Belgium, Campbell said that a study there found the effort not only reduced crime but lowered the rate of drug addiction.
"The normal argument you hear . . . is that it is a trade-off between street crime and addiction. You may have higher addiction, but it is worth it for the [drop in] street crime," Campbell said. "But that's not the argument I am making. I am saying, 'Let's see if we can get both.' "
Campbell said: "If you take the addicted population, and that is very hard to fake let alone desirable to fake, and offer them the drug to which they are addicted . . . that has the possibility of very beneficial results."
Campbell said he has long entertained the proposal but has not introduced such a plan as a congressman because he has been waiting for a California city or county to express interest in such an experiment. "My proposal is to allow a local unit of government, a state or a city, to try this. I wouldn't force it on anybody," he said.
"One mayor said he wanted to consider it, but then he decided not to go forward. It's just too tough . . . because of the politics," Campbell said.
While some of the nation's best known conservatives, including columnist William F. Buckley Jr., have pushed such radical approaches to combat drug use, Campbell's position is certain to become a campaign issue in a race that includes three conservative candidates for the GOP nomination: state Sen. Ray Haynes of Riverside, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn and Orange County businessman J.P. Gough.
"Congressman Tom Campbell once again has proved his ideas are far outside the mainstream," Horn said Wednesday. "What rational person would advocate spending taxpayer money purchasing cocaine from the Cali cartel to provide to our citizens?"
Campbell countered that his proposal bears consideration if for no other reason than the dismal failure of America's current drug policies.
"The present system is not working," Campbell said. "And if you are not willing to present these alternatives, you should not call yourself a leader."
Veteran GOP consultant Allan Hoffenblum said the two proposals typify the congressman's unconventional style and openness to ideas.
"The tax proposal will play well with the party, and he needs to solidify the Republicans if he is gonna win," he said.
Campbell's drug distribution plan, meanwhile, runs counter to mainstream GOP thinking, Hoffenblum said. "That is the Libertarian thing," Hoffenblum said. "There's no doubt that he is a Libertarian Republican, but most Republicans are not."
Hoffenblum added: "I'll tell you one thing. It sure proves that he is not overly handled by political [consultants]."