Jul. 10 2001
Washington, DC — As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to debate campaign finance reform, there is no better example of the power of campaign contributions to thwart the will of the majority and distort the political process than tobacco. The tobacco industry has been one of the biggest donors of unregulated "soft money" over the past decade, and the industry's efforts to buy access and influence have clearly paid off with its friends in the White House and Congress.
When the American public asks why so many favors have been done for the tobacco industry, one answer necessarily comes to the fore. Tobacco giant Philip Morris contributed more soft money from 1992 to 2000 – $9.5 million – than any other donor. In this past election alone, the tobacco industry made more than $8.3 million in campaign contributions, including $5.2 million in soft money, with 83 percent of the total going to Republicans.
Just look at the favors the tobacco industry has received in just the past two months. The Chairmen of the Republican Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), are the primary sponsors of weak tobacco regulation bills backed by Philip Morris. Not surprisingly, Philip Morris gave more than $2 million in soft money to Republican Party committees in the last election, including more than $500,000 each to the NRCC and the NSCC.
The U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it would seek to settle the federal tobacco lawsuit after anonymously leaking to the press that it thought it had a weak case and after failing to provide the funding necessary to continue the suit. You would think the Justice Department was representing the defendant, the tobacco industry, and not the plaintiff, the American people.
The Administration has also undermined international efforts to curb tobacco use. During negotiations in Geneva in May, the Administration repeatedly sought to weaken provisions of the proposed international tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. And more recently, the Administration pressured the South Korean government to scale back plans to impose a 40 percent tariff on imported cigarettes, indicating a possible return to the 1980s policy of using U.S. trade leverage to undermine other nations' efforts to reduce tobacco use and marketing.
It's a sad testament to the influence of campaign contributions that the tobacco industry is getting its way on every one of its federal priorities and that the American people cannot be sure whose interest the government is looking out for. The example of tobacco shows that our broken campaign finance system not only costs our nation by undermining the public's confidence in our government – it also costs lives. More than 400,000 Americans die every year of tobacco-related disease, and some 3,000 more kids become addicted to tobacco every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.
The time has come to for our nation's elected leaders to break their addiction to tobacco money, and special interest money in general, and put the public interest first. Enact real campaign finance reform now.