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Smoker Group's Thick Wallet Raises Questions

Funding: Alliance amassed $45.9 million but very little from members' dues, IRS reports show. Other records cite backing from tobacco firms.

March 29, 1998|MYRON LEVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By then the alliance had launched membership drives to develop an independent base, but with disappointing results. After expensive mass mailings brought little response, the group began paying recruiters to sign up members in bars, bowling alleys and other places where smokers congregate, according to interviews and published reports.

The alliance has also tapped political figures and celebrities to serve as directors and on its board of advisors to add luster to its image. Jeanie R. Austin, former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, is a director.

But the use of celebrity spokesmen backfired in at least one case: former board of advisors member Morton Downey Jr.

The acerbic talk show host, a heavy smoker, left the board of advisors in 1996. Within weeks of resigning, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. At a press conference soon thereafter, Downey committed himself to the anti-smoking cause and attacked the alliance as a "total front" for the industry--a charge a spokesman denied.

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