Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Tobacco?s Sweetheart Deal and the Industry?s Congressional Sweethearts

Feb. 13, 1998

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Tobacco?s Sweetheart Deal and the Industry?s Congressional Sweethearts

Tomorrow is Valentine?s Day, but the tobacco companies got a sweetheart box of chocolates last June when they consummated the proposed national deal?with state attorneys general. The tobacco companies? heart?s desire is limits on their legal accountability for decades of wrongdoing, and this deal gives it to them.

How does the industry plan to charm Congress into giving it this gift? Big Tobacco lavishes seductive campaign contributions on Members not just on Valentine?s Day but on every day of the year. Its scheme is to press Members to go all the way in granting immunity, by buying their affection with expensive PAC presents.

Big Tobacco?s PACs have contributed nearly $3 million to current members of Congress in recent years. This figures are heartbreaking for ordinary Americans worried about the influence of special interests, and include $1.67 million in contributions to House members in the 1995/1996 election cycle and $1.32 million in contributions to incumbent Senators over the last three cycles, 1991-1996.

Public Citizen compared members? 1997 voting records on tobacco issues with the amount of tobacco PAC money each lawmaker received. There were eight tobacco votes in the Senate in 1997 on issues ranging from raising taxes on tobacco to funding health care for children, ending government subsidies for tobacco crops and repealing a secretly-delivered gift of a $50 billion tax credit that was slipped into the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. There were three votes in the House, including votes to cut tobacco crop insurance and to increase funding for FDA to prevent tobacco use by minors.

That Big Tobacco gives money to its friends is not surprising, but the correlation between big donations and votes for Big Tobacco is truly startling.

In 1997, the 105 Representatives who voted for the Big Tobacco position on all three House tobacco votes received an average of $7,900 in contributions from tobacco industry PACS — more than 9 times the average $869 received by the 138 Representatives who always voted against the industry.

There is an even greater difference in the Senate, where the 12 Senators who voted most often for the tobacco industry received an average of about $32,000 in contributions from tobacco industry PACS between 1991 and 1996 — over 15 times as much as the average of $2,031 received by the 16 Senators who consistently voted against Big Tobacco.

Big Tobacco?s hopes for a Sweetheart Deal that will grant them virtual immunity from legal justice hinge on getting help from its string of admirers in Congress. But it is time for the money orgy to stop, and there are real signs that Big Tobacco?s affair with Congress is coming to an end.

Many Members who have been tobacco?s darlings for years don?t want to embrace the special protections given to the heartless tobacco companies in the proposed deal, especially since the revelations that these tobacco companies lied to Congress and the public, covered up the scientific data about the harms caused by their products, and–despite their years of denials–that they calculated to hook our nation?s children on tobacco products in order to replace the 420,000 adult customers killed each year by their products.

Newt Gingrich, tobacco?s number six sweetheart in the House during the last Congress, recently told reporters that “The more we have learned about tobacco’s deliberate campaign about addicting children and the more we have learned about their lying (about it), the weaker their negotiating position has become.”

Even Representative Thomas Bliley, long considered one of Big Tobacco?s biggest friends on the Hill and the number one House tobacco sweetheart in the 104th Congress–he accepted almost $35,000 in tobacco PAC money–told industry officials that the recent document disclosures “have shaken my confidence that you companies care about the truth. These documents suggest tobacco companies targeted children. These documents suggest racial stereotypes were part of your marketing plans. These documents suggest possible manipulation of scientific research by industry attorneys. If these things are true, then you should know that kind of behavior is unacceptable and will not be allowed.”

It is now time for all Senators and Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, to break with Big Tobacco, to stand up to this deadly industry and reject its ready cash. Is this “family friendly” Congress really going to give immunity to companies who have targeted children with their deadly products?

This Valentine?s Day, Public Citizen joins with the American Lung Association and the majority of the public in delivering this message to every member of Congress and to President Clinton: Oppose the Sweetheart Deal for Big Tobacco.

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