Scarcnet Mother Jones Alert 5/17/96


SCARC ACTION ALERT -- May 17, 1996



Magazine Publishes Expose of Tobacco Industry Tactics

In the following pages, our writers explain how tobacco executives plan to win the game once more. For them, it is a time of legal danger and political opportunity. No industry has a bigger investment or more at stake in the fall elections. Big Tobacco's covert operatives and cash are hard at work in the state capitals and on the campaign trail.-- "Tobacco Strikes Back," MOTHER JONES, May/June 1996.


A special issue of MOTHER JONES magazine features a number of investigative articles on the tobacco industry, and reports that it has uncovered the industry's massive and largely secret political comeback strategy: to use the 1996 elections to turn back the rising tide of tobacco control regulation, legislation and litigation. The 40-page report shows that the industry is depending on stealth tactics and the generous, strategic distribution of the $45 billion it brings in every year to restore its political invulnerability.

Although influence-peddling, covert efforts and political funding are hardly new to the industry, MOTHER JONES reports that the tobacco industry's current efforts are unprecedented in their scope and magnitude. As public opinion mounts against tobacco companies, they are pulling out all the stops to fend off the proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of tobacco, the class action and state lawsuits, and innumerable local and state tobacco control actions.

While MOTHER JONES focused on Republicans, the issue of tobacco money in politics is a bipartisan issue. The Democratic party has certainly not declined to take tobacco money, with the current Congressional Democratic leadership and tobacco-state Democrats among the top Congressional recipients of tobacco money. In both houses of Congress, tobacco-state Democrats are among the largest recipients of donations from tobacco political action committees (PACs), according to a recent report from Common Cause. For example, Rep. Charlie Rose of North Carolina is the second- largest recipient of tobacco money in the House of Representatives from 1986-1995, at $104,800, and Senator Wendell Ford of Kentucky is the second-largest recipient in the Senate for the ten-year period, at $76,057. Ford is also in the Senate Democratic leadership, as Minority Whip.

Among the Democratic leadership in the House, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) is the seventh-largest recipient of tobacco funds, receiving $67,258 between 1986-1995. In the first six months of 1995 alone, Gephardt took in $11,000 from tobacco. House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) is also among the top recipients in the ten year period, at $53,800.

MOTHER JONES outlines the following tobacco industry strategies:

* Help former Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) win the presidency.

There is an elaborate web of financial and organizational connections between the tobacco industry and the top ranks of the Dole presidential campaign. The tobacco industry's recent generosity to the Republican party is already gaining notoriety, as Philip Morris and RJR led all other donors in soft money contributions.

Recently, Dole said that, if elected, he would fire FDA Commissioner David Kessler; he also has publicly criticized the FDA's proposed tobacco regulations. Working with a Congress whose leadership -- of both parties -- is friendly to tobacco, and which is amply populated with tobacco-loyal tobacco-state legislators of both parties, Dole could severely hamper tobacco control efforts. Other likely actions under a President Dole and a hostile Congress include browbeating politically weak foreign countries to open up their markets to tobacco transnationals; burying the restrictions on workplace smoking proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; and, singing the anti-big-government refrain the industry has been so quick to exploit, hand most tobacco control issues to state legislatures, which have proved most amenable to tobacco lobbies. There the tobacco lobby can quietly insert preemption of local laws and other weakening measures into state laws.

* Control Congress.

Links exist between tobacco industry operatives and the current Republican Congressional leadership that are similar to those between tobacco and Dole. MOTHER JONES traces those links that are connected with the Ramhurst Corporation, a public-relations and "grassroots" lobbying firm that numbers RJ Reynolds among its clients. Founded by two former RJR smokers' rights political operatives, Ramhurst combines the "grassroots" lobbying techniques used by RJR with inside-the-Beltway-influence-peddling, made possible by the firm's strong relationships with GOP leaders. Ramhurst also channels logistical support and funds to state lobbyists and lawmakers seeking to enact pro-tobacco policies.

The firm has a nationwide network of about two dozen independent contractors who work to form coalitions with other organizations and industries to oppose various tobacco control measures. RJR uses these coalitions as cover, since RJR knows well that its own lobbyists and open advocacy lack all credibility or legitimacy. Ramhurst has worked with powerful trade associations, such as the National Federation of Independent Business, Washington DC's top small-business lobbying group, and has increasingly been allying itself with anti-tax groups, such as Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, and Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Ramhurst's grassroots organizers also provide the firm with its influential political connections -- with such GOP notables as former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (KS), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (TX), and Rep. John Shadegg (AZ), hand-picked by House Speaker Gingrich to lead GOPAC, the powerful political action committee.

* Buy influence with governors and state legislators.

Philip Morris spent about $100,000 to underwrite a fundraising dinner for the Republican Governor's Association (RGA) earlier this year. Both Philip Morris and RJR are board members of the RGA, each contributing about $40,000 annually to the group. At another gathering of the RGA, at the request of tobacco lobbyists, governors wrote to protest the FDA's proposal to regulate tobacco. At least one letter was written by a tobacco lawyer, and several letters from the governors showed a marked similarity to each other.

Philip Morris, RJR and UST all donate to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of about 3,000 conservative state legislators. PM and RJR sit on the group's board; PM gives the group about $50,000 annually; RJR, about $25,000; and UST, about $15,000. PM also donates to the National Conference of State Legislators, a bipartisan group of more than 7,000 members. It contributed $150,000 in 1995 for the group's annual meeting.

* Intimidate state attorneys general.

The law firm Covington & Burling, which represents the Tobacco Institute, assembled a team of politically well-connected lawyers, including at least one former attorney general, Andy Miller from Virginia, to travel around the country pressuring attorneys general not to sue tobacco companies to recover the Medicaid costs of treating smoking-related illnesses. In one state, Covington & Burling partner Keith Teel was said to run the meeting with "bare knuckles." If the state filed suit, he threatened to depose every Medicaid recipient in the state.

* Create and fund "grassroots" front groups, or plug into sympathetic existing groups, such as anti-tax groups.

Tobacco companies -- particularly RJR -- have concluded that their efforts to form grassroots smokers' rights groups have been less than successful and are now shifting their efforts to work more closely with the anti-tax movement.

To organize smokers' rights groups, an RJR field organizer would lead the initial meeting, and provide smokers with a thick notebook, "Smokers' Rights Leadership Manual." One such field organizer, Elizabeth Gallagher, said at a meeting, "A politician will not listen to you if they think all you are is a mouthpiece for the tobacco companies. Your only prayer is being independent, appearing independent, and for that reason, we don't get directly involved in organizing you guys." RJR apparently decided that such organizing was not providing a coherent political movement, saying some of its activists were "odd birds," "loons," and lacking "an understanding of what is feasible."

RJR found that anti-tax groups were more credible and effective than smokers' rights groups, and offered such groups a full range of organizational assistance, such as faxes, sample letters to the editor, phone calling, and computer lists. Field coordinators tried to build relationships with anyone who opposed taxes, such as local chambers of commerce, heads of business, and political contributors. For example, RJR, working through the Ramhurst lobbying firm, successfully orchestrated opposition to New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's proposal to raise the cigarette excise tax by forming alliances with anti-tax groups.

* Use political allies to silence religious conservatives, who otherwise might object to tobacco's health hazards.

Groups like the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee have been conspicuously silent about the health hazards of tobacco, including the well-documented dangers that tobacco poses to the fetus. Most conservative religious groups and pro- life activists, wary of alienating their Republican allies, have yet to act on tobacco control.

In the 1993-94 election cycle, tobacco companies gave more than $250,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which in turn donated $175,000 to the political action committee of the National Right to Life Committee. Policy analyst Richard Cizik at the National Association of Evangelicals said, "While I don't think RJ Reynolds is giving money to Focus on the Family or anybody, there is enough tobacco money floating around that it's probably inhibited some groups from speaking out."

While Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has expressed some support for efforts to reduce smoking, he has denied repeated requests to involve the group in tobacco control, and called the FDA's proposal part of a "dangerous trend" of executive-branch overreaching. Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's executive director and political strategist, responded to the FDA's proposal in almost solely partisan terms, deriding Clinton's "tobacco crusade" and gloating that Clinton's support of the proposal had "created a lot of problems" for Democrats in Kentucky.

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OBJECTIVES

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(not meant to be representative of MOTHER JONES magazine)

1) To help make the acceptance of tobacco money a politically costly and dangerous choice.

Since many tobacco control groups are barred by their tax status from partisan political activity such as endorsing or opposing political candidates, this Action Alert does not deal with such activities.

However, by focusing media attention on the non-partisan issue of the role of tobacco money in politics, advocates can help create a general political environment in which all elected political leaders will be wary of taking tobacco money, and, when they continue to take such money, intimidated from providing their votes as a seeming pay-off for tobacco contributions.

2) To publicize the tobacco industry's use of stealth tactics and money to distort the political process and blunt tobacco control momentum, using both local and national examples of the industry's strategies.

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MEDIA BITES

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  • * As the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says, "America's kids are not for sale." Our democracy is not for sale to tobacco's drug pushers.
  • * Tobacco companies aren't being so generous out of the goodness of their hearts -- their political contributions buy access and influence regarding lawmakers. They're trying to protect their investment, by trying to buy votes to block the FDA from acting to protect our children.
  • * Why is the industry so dependent on stealth? Because the merits of its arguments are simply not convincing anymore to the public or policymakers. Its credibility is so tarnished that it must resort to hiding behind other people and organizations and buying acceptability and legitimacy.
  • * Rather than presenting itself honestly to the public and to policymakers, the tobacco industry is reduced to using deception -- the tool of a discredited, desperate industry.
  • * How much longer can religious conservatives remain silent on tobacco? Reducing tobacco use goes to the core of their beliefs -- protecting the sanctity of life.
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USEFUL QUOTES

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"The challenge to our democracy couldn't be more clear. Can we control a politically corrupt industry whose products kill our citizens?"--"Tobacco Strikes Back," MOTHER JONES, May/June 1996, p. 33.

"In about the third year, there was an emphasis on coalition- building -- anti-tax groups were a natural. You didn't have to defend your position on tobacco because a tax is a tax is a tax to these guys. They don't care what it is."--Former RJR grassroots field coordinator, speaking on the company's shift from trying to build a smokers' rights movement to allying itself with anti-tax groups, "Fakin' It," MOTHER JONES, May/June 1996, p. 53.

"That [Florida state senator Ginny] Brown-Waite stood so along her GOP colleagues is discouraging evidence that Big Tobacco's strategy is basically sound: Money smothers conscience almost every time."--Columnist Carl Hiaasen, commenting on Brown-Waite's vote to oppose a measure heavily lobbied by the tobacco industry, MIAMI HERALD, March 17, 1996, p. B1.

"The biggest question of all, of course, is whether politicians funded by killer tobacco will pay an electoral price. Unless they do, [current efforts to hold tobacco companies responsible] may begin to seem an anomaly -- a storm that the big boys can ride out, sheltered by a Congress they've bought and paid for."--PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, March 25, 1996, p. A8.

"One day last summer Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, decided to play Santa Claus. . . . Mr. Boehner took it upon himself to begin handing out money from tobacco lobbyists to certain of his colleagues on the House floor. He was not deterred by the fact that the House was in session, and that he was supposed to be attending to the nation's business. He was not constrained by any sense that passing money around the floor of the House of Representatives was a sacrilege. He had the checks and he dispensed them."--Columnist Bob Herbert, NEW YORK TIMES, May 10, 1996, p. A33. [Herbert went on to say that according to the House Ethics Committee, Boehner's action was not illegal. Although it is against the law to solicit contributions while on Federal property, representatives and senators are free to accept and distribute donations that are voluntarily offered.]

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SUGGESTED ACTIONS

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1) Garner additional media coverage on the industry's tactics outlined in MOTHER JONES by following leads at the local level. Identify and publicize local examples as part of the covert national strategy that the industry is using to manipulate the political process to suit its own profit needs. For instance, expose local front groups or public relations firms working secretly on behalf of tobacco.

As candidates -- local, state and federal, of any political party - - come to your area, ask them their views on tobacco. Do they consider nicotine addictive? Do they support the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) proposals to restrict the marketing and sales of tobacco to kids? Would they support firing FDA Commissioner Kessler? Do they accept tobacco money?

In general, whether or not you focus on specific local examples of these national strategies, contact local political reporters to ensure that they have the MOTHER JONES materials as they cover the 1996 campaigns.

2) Ask your lawmakers -- federal, state and local, of any political party -- to sign the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' pledge not to accept tobacco money. If you don't have a copy of the pledge, contact the Campaign at (202) 296-5469 to get a copy. (For more information on tobacco money in politics, please see SCARC Action Alert, "Studies Show Impact of Tobacco Money in Politics; Campaign Unveils New Initiative on Tobacco Cash," 3/22/96.) Frame the decision to sign as a choice between protecting children or siding with a special interest that is corrupting the political process. As criticism continues to rise against the industry, lawmakers will feel pressure to show that they are not influenced by the industry. (Please see note below on electioneering.)

3) If you're interested in additional copies of the MOTHER JONES issue (or would like to subscribe), contact the subscription department at PO Box 469024, Escondido, CA 92046-9024, or 1-800- 334-8152, or 1-800-GET-MOJO.

MOTHER JONES has expressed interest in continuing coverage of the tobacco industry. If you have more tips on tobacco industry activities that you'd like to give to MOTHER JONES, you can contact Kerry Lauerman at (415) 357-0509.


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