House Passage of Shays-Meehan… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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House Passage of Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Bill is a Valentine for American Democracy

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 14, 2002

Washington, DC — Today the House of Representatives bestowed upon the nation a much-needed Valentine's Day gift. The House's approval early this morning 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. The Senate should quickly approve an identical bill, and the President should sign it into law.

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. In large measure because of its campaign contributions, the tobacco industry has succeeded repeatedly in thwarting legislation to protect the public health by reducing the death and disease caused by tobacco use. As a result, the campaign finance system not only costs our nation by undermining the public's confidence in our governmental institutions — it also costs lives. More than 400,000 Americans die every year of tobacco-related disease, and some 2,000 more kids become addicted to tobacco every day, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.

No one has played the influence game better than Big Tobacco. Tobacco giant Philip Morris contributed more soft money from 1992 to 2000 – $9.5 million – than any other donor. In the 2000 election cycle, 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. In 2001, the tobacco industry contributed another $3.03 million, including $1.9 million in soft money.

In the last year the tobacco industry has received particularly special treatment. 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 has given more than $2.8 million in soft money to Republican Party committees since January 1, 1999, including more than $700,000 each to the NRCC and the NSCC.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice 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. For a while, it looked like the Justice Department was representing the defendant, the tobacco industry, and not the plaintiff, the American people.

Today's House action is a big step in the right direction. As a member of the Americans for Reform coalition, the Campaign commends the leadership of Reps. Chris Shays and Marty Meehan, Common Cause, and the other courageous members who worked to reform our nation's campaign finance system and give government back to the people.