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Tobacco Industry Contributed $32 Million Since 1995 to Thwart Public Health Policy

Report Details Correlation Between Money and Votes And Industry's Agenda for the New Congress and Administration
March 14, 2001

Washington, DC — The tobacco industry has given more than $32 million in political contributions since 1995 in its efforts to thwart public health measures, and votes in Congress show a strong correlation between the amount Members receive and how they vote on tobacco-related issues, according to a report issued today.

The report also details what the tobacco industry expects for its money from the new Congress and Administration, including defeating legislation to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, killing the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco industry and changing U.S. trade policy to support the export of tobacco products.

The report, titled Buying Influence, Selling Death, was released as the U.S. Senate prepares to debate campaign finance reform legislation.

'Tobacco policy presents one of the clearest examples of how campaign contributions have distorted the political process to protect the special interests rather than the public interest,' concludes the report, which was released by Common Cause, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

At the federal level, tobacco interests have contributed more than $26.7 million since 1995, including $17.4 million in unregulated 'soft money' donations to the political parties, $7.4 million in political action committee (PAC) contributions, and $1.9 million in individual contributions (individual contributions data according to the Center for Responsive Politics). Tobacco interests have contributed an additional $5.4 million at the state level.

Six out of 10 members of the current Congress received direct contributions from tobacco companies at some time during the past six years. Overall, tobacco companies have invested more than $5.4 million in the 107th Congress.

In the 2000 election cycle alone, tobacco interests directed $8.3 million to federal election efforts, including $5.2 million in soft money, $2.4 million in PAC contributions and $670,000 in individual contributions. Individual contributions during the 2000 cycle included $90,000 to the Bush presidential campaign and $8,000 to the Gore presidential campaign.

In addition to campaign contributions to political candidates and parties, the report details the myriad ways in which the tobacco industry seeks to buy access and influence, including funding political conventions, fundraisers and presidential inaugurations; subsidizing air travel by elected officials; funding academic centers named after politicians; direct lobbying of policy makers; and funding front groups, think tanks and other organizations that support the industry's legislative goals.

Recent Congressional votes on three issues show a strong correlation between the amount that Members have received in tobacco campaign contributions and how they voted:

  • The tobacco industry's biggest victory over public health policy was the June 1998 defeat in the U.S. Senate of comprehensive tobacco legislation sponsored by Sen. McCain. The bill was defeated by filibuster on June 17, 1998, even though 57 Senators indicated support by voting to end debate and bring the bill to a final vote. The 42 senators who voted to kill the McCain bill received, on average, nearly four times as much money from the tobacco industry in the two years before their last election as the senators who supported the bill ($17,902 vs. $4,810).

  • In June 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives voted twice on whether to fund the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against the tobacco industry. On the first vote (June 19), the 207 House members who voted to block funding for the lawsuit had taken, on average, five times as much tobacco PAC money in the previous two election cycles as the 197 who voted to continue funding ($9,712 vs. $1,750). On a subsequent vote (June 23), the 183 members who voted to cut off funding had taken, on average, nearly seven times as much tobacco PAC money in the previous two cycles as the 215 members who supported funding the lawsuit ($10,715 vs. $1,539).

  • In July 1997, the House and Senate voted on funding for enforcement of the FDA's initiative to prevent illegal tobacco sales to minors. In the Senate (July 23), the 52 senators who voted against funding for compliance checks received, on average, nearly three times the tobacco PAC contributions in the two years before their last election as the 48 senators who supported the funding ($14,884 vs. $5,223). In the House (July 24), Members voting against the funding had taken, on average, nearly five times as much tobacco PAC money in the previous cycle as those who voted to fund the compliance checks ($5,636 vs. $1,142).

The report points out that the tobacco industry's positions, and the support for them in Congress, are at odds with overwhelming public support for strong public health policies on tobacco. A poll conducted in February for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids shows that three out of four voters support granting the FDA authority over the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products and holding the tobacco industry legally accountable for its deception and wrongdoing.

'Make no mistake: The tobacco industry doesn't cough up $32 million out of a sense of charity or philanthropy. This is all about purchasing the desired degree of inaction from a compliant Congress. Sadly the evidence indicates that their money was well spent,' said Common Cause President Scott Harshbarger. 'If anyone needed yet another reason to support campaign finance reform, this report shows rather conclusively that the current system has a cost in terms of human lives.'

'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,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for

Tobacco-Free Kids. 'What other industry could make a product that causes so much death and disease, aggressively market that product to kids, and still be virtually free from regulation or government oversight?'

'The tobacco industry has invested millions in elected officials, but it expects even more in return,' said John R. Garrison, Chief Executive Officer of the American Lung Association. 'It wants to buy immunity from its legal problems and barter an escape from responsibility. It wants to continue to evade common-sense regulations. And it wants the U.S. government to again promote the export of the tobacco epidemic abroad.'

'The best measure of the influence of tobacco money is Congress' repeated willingness to do what the tobacco industry wants instead of what the public wants,' said Richard Hamburg, Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association. 'Congress must break this cycle of addiction to tobacco money and do what is needed to protect our nation's health.'

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. It causes more than 400,000 deaths and costs our nation nearly $90 billion in medical expenses each year. Tobacco causes one out of every five deaths in the U.S., including nearly one out of every three deaths from cancer, one out of every five deaths from heart disease and 87 percent of all lung cancer cases. Ninety percent of all smokers begin at or before age 18, and 3,000 kids become regular smokers each day – one-third of whom will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease.