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Campaign Cash at Work: Senator Lott and the Republican Leadership Are Trying to Kill National Tobacco Control Legislation Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

June 15, 1998

Campaign Cash at Work:
Senator Lott and the Republican Leadership Are Trying to Kill National Tobacco Control Legislation
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

For a generation, Big Tobacco has used its profits from addicted consumers to make lavish campaign contributions to members of Congress and state legislatures to protect their bottom line.

Now Congress has the first real opportunity in decades to pass tobacco legislation that protects families and saves lives, without giving the industry any special deals. The release of incriminating documents through the Minnesota trials, the Joe Camel case and other litigation has proved once and for all that this industry coldly calculated to hook the nation?s children on nicotine to replace their 400,000 customers who die of tobacco-related illnesses every year. These revelations have even made some of tobacco?s long-time allies on Capitol Hill blanch at the idea of protecting this rogue industry from regulation.

But the actions of the Republican leadership during the Senate debate on this legislation over the last four weeks could mean that Big Tobacco?s investment is paying off again. The bill Senator Lott brought to the floor gave unprecedented liability protections to the tobacco industry. Once the Senate rejected those protections by supporting the Gregg-Leahy “no immunity” amendment, Senator Lott allowed delaying tactics to begin.

The Gregg-Leahy amendment and the Durbin-DeWine amendment to reduce teenage smoking have made this a true public health measure — just what the tobacco companies don?t want. The Republican leadership is not interested in a bill that is no longer a sweetheart deal for Big Tobacco.

Senator Lott?s top lieutenants wasted most of the floor time last week on issues that had nothing to do with tobacco and kept Republican Senators from voting for cloture petitions to end debate. Clearly, the Republican leadership is trying to run out the clock on this bill. Why is it so determined to save their friends in Big Tobacco?

Public Citizen analyzed 10 recent Senate votes on the McCain tobacco bill and compared them to tobacco PAC contributions over the last five years. Guess what?

Those 34 Senators who voted all or almost all of the time (8 of 10 times) with Big Tobacco received almost 7 times more tobacco PAC money on average than the 40 who voted with consumers all or almost all of the time. Senators siding with Big Tobacco the most received an average of $21,309 in tobacco contributions from 1993-1997, while Senators opposing Big Tobacco the most got an average of $3,075.

And the influence of soft money contributions is also being felt. Since 1987, the tobacco industry has contributed $16 million in soft money to the two parties. These contributions overwhelmingly favored the Republican national party committees, which received $13 million — 81% of the total — compared to the Democratic national party committees, which received $3 million. Last year alone, the tobacco industry contributed $3.18 million in soft money to the parties, more than $2.64 million — 83% — to Republicans, and $541,000 to Democrats.

It is no coincidence that the same Republican Senate leadership that held the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill hostage is now holding the tobacco bill hostage. But every day they drag out this bill, American kids are becoming addicted to nicotine. A slow death for this bill means a slow death for thousands more of today?s children.

Big Tobacco’s Senate leaders should let comprehensive tobacco control legislation go to help break the cycle of nicotine addiction among teenagers, just as surely as they should let campaign finance legislation go forward to break members? addiction to campaign cash.