USA: Bush Cabinet Ties to Tobacco Lobby

Publisher Name: 
Washington Post

As governor of Wisconsin, Health and Human Services Secretary-
designate Tommy G. Thompson received more than $70,000 in
campaign donations from the Philip Morris Cos. in the past seven
years, and traveled abroad at least three times with company
executives.

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee in 1998,
Attorney General nominee John D. Ashcroft was the only member
to vote against a bill that would have curtailed the marketing
activities of the tobacco industry nationwide.

And when Interior Secretary nominee Gale A. Norton was attorney
general of Colorado, she resisted calls to sue the tobacco industry
to recover health care costs, saying it would be costly and difficult
to win. Although she later became involved in national settlement
negotiations, other participants said she frequently took positions
at odds with the public health groups.

Thompson, Ashcroft and Norton are among a number of figures
in the Bush administration who have been relatively helpful to the
tobacco industry and who could take positions that would signal a
marked change in the federal government's approach to cigarette
makers.

"The tobacco industry has connections to many Cabinet nominees
and to top White House advisers," said Paul Billings, a spokesman
for the American Lung Association. "They will have a lot of access
to this administration, and we have to wonder how that will affect
administration policies. There's not much here that's encouraging
to us."

In addition to concerns about Thompson, Norton and Ashcroft,
activists point to political strategist Karl Rove, who worked as a
political consultant for Philip Morris from 1991 to 1996 and will
become a senior White House adviser.

The Clinton administration aggressively supported anti-smoking
efforts, most notably for the first time allowing the Food and Drug
Administration to assert authority over the regulation of tobacco
products. The Supreme Court overturned that assertion last year.

The administration also filed and funded a lawsuit against the
industry over strong Republican objections. A federal judge threw
out some of the charges in August, but allowed the racketeering
charge to go forward to trial.

George W. Bush voiced discomfort with the suit during the
campaign, and tobacco control advocates fear it won't survive long.

"During the last election, the tobacco industry spent millions of
dollars in direct and soft money contributions, and the issue is what
they want in return," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign
for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Since Bush was elected, the stock market
has pushed up tobacco stocks dramatically. That means people
think the administration will be doing their bidding."

While Vice President Gore campaigned as a tobacco-control
advocate, Bush said little on the subject beyond his opposition to
youth smoking. The tobacco industry donated almost $120,000 in
hard and soft money in the past two years to the Bush campaign,
according to the Campaign Study Group, a nonpartisan watchdog
group. (Philip Morris also donated $100,000 for the inaugural, the
company said.)

The Study Group also reports that the National Republican Senate
Committee received almost $1.4 million from tobacco interests in
the past two years. (Former senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.),
sworn in yesterday as secretary of the Department of Energy, also
received $26,000 from tobacco interests, the group said.)

Although Norton would have no apparent role to play regarding
tobacco in the Bush administration, Thompson and Ashcroft would
both be major players.

Ashcroft voted consistently with the tobacco industry in the Senate,
and has voiced strong opposition to the federal government's
racketeering lawsuit against the industry, anti-smoking activists say.
A nonsmoker, he has, however, refused direct tobacco industry
contributions for some years.

But anti-smoking activists are most concerned about Thompson
because as head of HHS he would have the most direct role in
tobacco issues.

As governor, Thompson has had especially warm relations with
executives from Philip Morris -- a major employer in Wisconsin.
Thompson resisted many anti-smoking efforts, and Wisconsin has
relatively high smoking rates as a result, the activists say, though
he also ultimately signed some measures they applauded.

They point with particular dismay to his veto of a bill requiring the
state to spend money from a national tobacco settlement along
guidelines established by the federal Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, because the head of HHS oversees that agency.

A spokesman for Thompson, Kevin Keane, rejected the criticism
and said the gvernor "is very much anti-smoking, particularly with
youth."

"He's a man known to walk up to a young person smoking and take
the cigarette out of his hands," Keane said. "If he sees a staff
member with cigarettes, he crumbles them up and throws them in
the garbage."

As governor of Wisconsin, Thompson was supported by tobacco
interests, receiving almost $100,000 from 1993 to 2000, according
to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. More than $70,000 of that
came from executives at Philip Morris -- which owns Oscar Mayer
Foods and Miller Brewing, both major state employers.

"Obviously, there has been a very close relationship between the
governor and Philip Morris, and tobacco interests generally," said
Mike McCabe, president of the Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan
group that tracks campaign spending.

Peggy Roberts, spokeswoman for Philip Morris, said that it was
"incumbent on us to have a good relationship with Governor
Thompson because we're the second largest employer in the state.
We pay a lot of taxes there."

Thompson spokesman Keane said of the governor's relationship
with Philip Morris: "The anti-tobacco critics can live in a pure and
ideal world and support a policy of never having to deal with Philip
Morris. The governor didn't have that luxury because Philip Morris
is such an important employer. And we think some positive things
came from that relationship."

Thompson was criticized in Wisconsin for trips he took to Australia
(in 1996), to Southern Africa (1995) and to England (1992) with
executives and lobbyists from Philip Morris. The trips were
organized through the National Governors' Association, but were
financed largely with money from groups sponsored by Philip
Morris. Thompson later said that he didn't know the trips were
substantially paid for by Philip Morris and that he wouldn't have
gone if he had known. But critics note that Thompson was aware
that Philip Morris officials were on the trip and sent letters of thanks
to them.

A study by the Saint Louis University School of Public Health in St.
Louis concluded that in 1996, Wisconsin ranked 49th in legislative
action to control tobacco use, according to information from the
National Cancer Institute. The high school smoking rate in Wisconsin
is 36 percent, just above the national average, according to the
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Wisconsin is now 13th in terms of funding tobacco control, following
recent legislative approval of $23.5 million annual funding for state
anti-tobacco efforts, according to the group. Thompson signed that
appropriation but had initially proposed spending only $2.5 million
yearly for that program.

The question of how much of the $246 billion national tobacco
settlement states should spend on anti-tobacco efforts has become
a contentious one. Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore,
who helped negotiate the settlement, said that Texas has spent
little of its tobacco money on anti-tobacco programs and that he
hopes the Bush administration in Washington will have a different
attitude.

"The states have a great opportunity to change public health
dramatically, and I'm afraid that some states and many people
will be missing the boat," Moore said. "This is an issue where
Tommy Thompson can now have a big impact" by encouraging
states to fund anti-tobacco programs aggressively.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

AMP Section Name:Money & Politics
  • 106 Money & Politics
  • 109 Tobacco