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Tobacco's '96 Lobbying Tab Is $15 Million

Advocacy: First-ever reports disclosing special-interest spending show that Philip Morris led the pack with an outlay of $11.3 million.

September 09, 1996|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Feeling its own health threatened, the tobacco industry spent more than $15 million in the first half of 1996 to thwart federal efforts to curtail teen-age smoking, raise the industry's taxes and restrict its advertising.

Industry giant Philip Morris Cos. led the way with $11.3 million, according to the first-ever reports disclosing special interests' real expenses in lobbying Congress, federal agencies and the White House.

Congressional clerks who reviewed the reports say Philip Morris' total appeared to be the largest so far among around 12,000 companies and groups that filed midyear reports over the last two months.

"We have had a lot of federal attention from regulators and the White House," said Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, a trade association. "It's never easy communication, because tobacco is controversial on many, many levels."

The industry, once given deferential treatment in Washington, has seen its credibility eroded in recent years by allegations that executives covered up knowledge of the damaging and addictive nature of cigarettes, said Michael Pertschuk, an anti-tobacco researcher and activist at the Advocacy Institute.

"They have the deepest pockets imaginable, and they have the most at stake," Pertschuk said. "The very heart of their industry is under attack."

The industry's political vulnerability was heightened last month when President Clinton declared nicotine an addictive drug and ordered that cigarettes for the first time be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Not only is the industry pouring money into lobbying, it's also spending millions to influence lawmakers through campaign donations and additional millions to defend itself against lawsuits.

Thirteen states have sued to recover smoking-related health-care costs. Eight class-action suits are pending, filed by smokers who claim they became hooked while the industry concealed the addictive nature of its product.

Records show that during the first 18 months of the current two-year election cycle, tobacco companies gave $4.75 million in unregulated "soft money" to the two major parties--about $4 million to the GOP and about $750,000 to the Democrats.

Philip Morris paid the Arnold & Porter law firm $240,000 to represent it on issues including FDA regulation of tobacco; former House doorkeeper James T. Molloy $20,000 to lobby on proposed youth smoking regulations; and the firm of former House member Ed Jenkins $140,000 to protect it against proposed increases in excise taxes.

Company spokeswoman Darienne Dennis noted that the figure also includes money spent to advance the corporation's interests in the food and beer businesses. Philip Morris "has a right to lobby on matters of impact to its business, just like others," she said.

Other leading spenders included the Tobacco Institute, nearly $1.3 million; U.S. Tobacco, $920,000; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, $859,670; and the Smokeless Tobacco Council, $600,000.

The new lobbying law requires all interests that engage in significant lobbying in Washington to register and disclose a good-faith estimate of lobbying expenses twice a year. The law went into effect Jan. 1.

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