Controversy erupts over donor’s rehab program
No on 64 Donor’s ties with abuse
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 23:10
Save Our Society From Drugs, the mission that Mel and Betty Sembler have dedicated their lives to is right in the title of the nonprofit they founded together.
After making his fortune in Florida real estate, Melvin Floyd Sembler used his considerable influence and cash flow to open a series of drug abuse rehabilitation clinics around the country and become a major GOP financier.
Since 1979, he’s served as ambassador to Australia and Italy, drug-policy advisor to President George W. Bush, and most recently, a Florida co-chair for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s finance committee.
Sembler’s name recently made headlines in Colorado after Save Our Society From Drugs gave a donation to Smart Colorado: No On 64, a campaign against the ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol. Sembler’s contribution made up 95 percent of the funds for No On 64.
But Sembler’s name is infamous for another issue entirely. Sembler opened his first STRAIGHT clinic in 1976. Speaking in front of the United States Senate, which was considering his confirmation as ambassador to Italy, Sembler stated, “Betty and I initially agreed that if we helped one child it would be worth all the effort. With 12,000 successful graduates...It was a gratifying accomplishment.”
The STRAIGHT model of drug abuse rehabilitation was closely patterned after a controversial program called The Seed, whose centers were found by a Senate report to be “[subjecting clients] to experimental and potentially harmful treatments.” The report stated that The Seed’s tactics of behavior modification and group therapy resembled North Korean brainwashing techniques.
STRAIGHT folded in 1993, the victim of a revoked license, a ream of lawsuits, and former clients splashing stories of abuse, rape, and suicide attempts across front pages. Anti-STRAIGHT activist Wes Fager claimed to have traced 40 suicides of former clients to the clinic’s abuse.
The face of ex-STRAIGHT clients was Samantha Monroe, who went on the Montel Williams Show to describe the abuse she suffered at the hands of the former clients who made up most of STRAIGHT’s staff. She talked about being locked in a closet for 14 days, being forced to soil her so-called “humble pants” with her urine, feces and menstrual blood. She talked about a staffer demanding sexual favors from her when she was 15 years old. “I refused to let them take my mind,” she told Williams.
In a statement to Westword, Smart Colorado campaign director Roger Sherman called the assertions against Sembler baseless, and emphasized the fact that The Nation’s Lee Fang, whose article touched off the controversy, never contacted the organization. “The Nation would never talk about the millions of dollars dropped into the proponents’ campaign by the Marijuana Policy Project, and neither would the Huffington Post,” Sherman said.
Smart Colorado is not the only organization in the race to receive funds from outside the state; the four organizations supporting proposition 64 raised a daunting 1.4 million dollars by mid-September, with 84 percent of that from out of state organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, according to Leila Larsen and Katharina Bucholz of I News Network.