Big Tobacco’s Ties to Funding of Prop. 29 Opposition Exposed

An NBC investigative team has exposed historical and financial ties between many of the supposedly independent groups actively opposing Proposition 29, a measure to increase California’s tobacco tax by $1.00 per pack, and the tobacco industry. Collectively, groups against the measure have spent $46.7 million so far — over four times more than the amount spent by groups supporting the measure. Much of the money to oppose the measure came from cigarette makers Reynolds American and Philip Morris, laundered through groups that are seemingly independent from the industry, like Americans for Tax Reform, the Small Business Action Committee and the California Taxpayers’ Association. Tobacco industry documents now available on the Internet reveal these groups have historically received significant financial support from Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and the Tobacco Institute. Political analyst Larry Gerston commented, “These kinds of transfers of money increasingly take place under a very dark shadow.” The strategy of burying tobacco industry involvement in ballot measure campaigns is revealed in a 1998 proposal by a political consulting group that worked for the Tobacco Institute on another cigarette tax fight. It says, in part:

“The tobacco industry is currently losing the public relations war with the general public…Tobacco has become the politically incorrect product of the 1990’s and the efforts waged against this industry have taken its toll . Everybody from the left to the right of the political spectrum is finding tobacco to be the boy with the “kick me” sign on its back and are going after it either with product liability suits or taxing it as a “sin.” Even the industry’s “friends” in Congress are proposing increasing the tax on tobacco while cutting taxes in other areas. There is nobody left to defend tobacco, and at this point it is basically undefendable. Therefore, the tobacco industry cannot be the messenger, otherwise anything that is said is dead on arrival. Understanding the above, the only way to defeat any of the hostile tax increase measures currently in circulation for the November ballot in California, is to build a coalition of groups more favorable to the public without the fingerprints of tobacco on it…[W]e have to resort to a more stealth approach, where a loose group of coalitions is hitting the initiative from different angles. This should be the planned strategy for the weeks before the election.”

To have any impact on an election, the tobacco industry is forced to work through groups that have more credibility that it does. The groups whose tobacco ties were exposed issued comments denying that they take policy positions based on who gives them money, or saying simply that their policy activity is broad-based and aimed at defending their business.

Source: Source: NBC Bay Area, June 1, 2012

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