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Statement: Senate Passage of McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Bill is a Triumph of the Public Interest

Statement by Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 02, 2001

Washington, DC — The Senate's approval today of campaign finance reform legislation is a triumph of the public interest over special interests and of public health over the political health of Big Tobacco. Today the people won. As a member of the Americans for Reform coalition, the Campaign commends the leadership of Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, Common Cause, and the other courageous senators who worked to reform our nation's campaign finance system and give government back to the people.

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.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris contributed more unregulated soft money from 1992 to 2000 – $9.5 million – than any other donor. Tobacco interests have contributed more than $26.7 million at the federal level since 1995, including $17.4 million in soft money, $7.4 million in PAC contributions and $1.9 million in individual contributions. 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.

The current system not only costs our nation by undermining the public's confidence in our governmental institutions – it also costs lives.

The best example is the tobacco industry's success in 1998 in defeating the comprehensive tobacco-control legislation sponsored by Senator McCain. This bill was defeated in the Senate by a filibuster even though 57 Senators supported it. Those who voted against the bill received, on average, nearly four times as much in campaign contributions from the tobacco companies during their previous election cycle as Senators who voted for the bill. Since this bill was defeated, more than three million kids have become new daily smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. In that time, more than one million Americans have died of smoking-related disease, and the nation has spent $233 billion on tobacco-related health expenditures.

The tobacco companies have invested millions in elected officials, but they expect even more in return. Their latest wish list includes killing the Department of Justice lawsuit against the industry and preventing passage of legislation granting the FDA effective authority over tobacco products. The time has come to break Congress' addiction to tobacco money, and protect the public health instead. Today's Senate action is a big step in the right direction.