|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|CONTACT: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Jennifer Thorp 202-296-5469
- June 29 - Today, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids filed a
complaint with the Federal Election Commission against the five major U.S. tobacco
companies alleging they violated federal election law by indicating they would mount a
television ad campaign in support of senators voting, in effect, to kill the McCain
tobacco control bill. The industry's promise influenced the 57-42 outcome of the June 18
Senate vote on the cloture petition to end the debate on the McCain bill.
The companies named in the campaign's complaint were Philip Morris Inc., RJ Reynolds
Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and United
States Tobacco Company.
Information upon which the complaint is based has been published in The Wall Street
Journal, Time and The Washington Post. According to the news reports, just hours before
senators were scheduled to vote on cloture, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) informed his
Republican colleagues in a closed door meeting that if they voted to kill the tobacco
bill, major tobacco manufacturers would defend and reward them by launching a television
ad campaign in the fall supporting their actions.
"The intent of these promised ads was clearly to influence the outcome of the
November elections by providing support and political cover to those who handed the
tobacco industry this victory," said Matthew L. Myers, executive vice president and
general counsel of the campaign. We are appalled and outraged by this blatant and
successful industry attempt to buy the votes it needed."
Corporations are expressly forbidden under federal election laws from making
"contributions" or "expenditures" in connection with federal elections
and candidates are expressly prohibited from knowingly accepting contributions made by
corporations. A contribution or expenditure includes direct or indirect payments or
"anything of value" to influence a federal election.
"The recent news accounts once again underscore the power and influence that Big
Tobacco has in Congress," said Bill Novelli, campaign president. In their most recent
election cycles, the 42 senators who voted against cloture accepted nearly four times as
much tobacco industry money as senators voting for cloture. Nicotine and money remain very
addictive substances, and for many legislators, they are far more intoxicating than
standing up for America's kids.
The five tobacco companies named in the complaint are those that sponsored the $40 million
campaign against the McCain bill and presumably are those to which Sen. McConnell referred
in his remarks.
A copy of the complaint follows:
June 29, 1998
Federal Election Commission
999 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20463
Dear General Counsel:
Pursuant to 11 C.F.R. 111.4, the National Center for Tobacco-Free
Kids files this Complaint against Philip Morris Inc., RJ Reynolds
Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co.,
and United States Tobacco Company for what appears to be a violation
of Federal election law, a violation which had a direct and serious
impact on the June 18, 1998 Senate 57-42 vote on the Cloture petition
to end the debate on S.1415, "The National Tobacco Policy and Youth
Smoking Reduction Act."
Corporations are expressly forbidden under federal election laws
from making "contributions" or "expenditures" in connection with
federal elections and candidates are expressly prohibited from
knowingly accepting contributions made by corporations. A
contribution or expenditure includes direct or indirect payments or
"anything of value" to influence a federal election. The Federal
Election Commission has defined "anything of value" to include
in-kind contributions, including advertisements. 11 C.F.R.
100.7(a)(1)(iii) and 100.8(a)(1)(iv).
Based upon reports that have been widely published in the news
media, only hours before Republican senators were due to vote for or
against cloture on S.1415, Sen. Mitch McConnell informed his
colleagues in a closed door meeting that if they voted to kill the
tobacco bill, the major tobacco manufacturers were promising to mount
a television ad campaign to support those who voted against the bill.
When Sen. McConnell reported that the goal of the tobacco
industry's ads to be run in the Fall after the critical vote was to
support and defend those senators who voted to kill the bill, he
clearly demonstrated that these potential ads were not issue ads, but
ads intended to influence the outcome of the upcoming election.
Communications, like the ads the tobacco industry is reported to
have promised Republican senators it would run, especially when made
with the cooperation, coordination, or even just the consent of, or
in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of, any
candidate do not qualify under any exception to the campaign finance
laws, but rather confer something of "value" that constitutes an
illegal "contribution" by the tobacco industry. FEC Advisory Opinion
1988-22. See Also Clifton v. FEC, No. 96-1812 (1st Cir. June 6,
1997) (1997 WL 292145).
Rarely is the connection between a campaign contribution
and a vote on a critical issue so blatantly linked as occurred
in this case. In this case, the quid pro quo was clear and
it is clear that it was at least communicated by Sen. McConnell,
the Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee,
to his colleagues just before a crucial vote: Vote for the tobacco
industry and the tobacco industry will advertise to help you
during the upcoming election.
It is the combination of the stated goal of the ads (to support
and defend senators who voted with it in the upcoming election)
and the coordination and/or cooperation between the tobacco
industry and the senators regarding the expenditures reflected
in the promised ad campaign during the upcoming election that
constitutes a serious violation of the election laws.
The facts upon which this complaint are based are contained in
several reputable recent media reports and not upon the personal
knowledge of the complainant because the tobacco industry's promises
were made and communicated in secret behind closed doors. For
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 25, 1998:
On the day the Senate killed comprehensive tobacco legislation,
Sen. Mitch McConnell stood up at a closed-door meeting of Republican
senators to deliver the good news: The tobacco industry would mount a
television ad campaign to support those who voted to knock off the
bill. Such ads, Mr. McConnell says now, would generally be helpful
to people who decided to kill this bill as a big tax increase on
working Americans. The Kentucky Republican, chairman of the Senate
GOP campaign committee, played a prominent role in the bill's demise
last week, his colleagues say, advising Senate Majority Leader Trent
Lott of Mississippi that he could eliminate the measure without fear
of voter reprisal....And the tobacco industry's $40 million ad
campaign against the bill helped convince members that public opinion
could be swayed on the issue....Republicans and industry ads
will paint the issue as whether voters favor 'raising taxes to enrich
trial lawyers' he says."
Time Magazine reported in its June 29, 1998 edition similar
comments from McConnell:
"In the end, it was McConnell who was most persuasive. He told
Lott that things had changed since the process had begun in April.
His senate candidates were safe; in tight senate races, such
as North Carolina and Kentucky, defending tobacco would help more
than hurt. Besides, McConnell argued, the industry was promising
to run ads on behalf of GOP senators to defend them against charges
that they'd killed the bill."
The Washington Post reported on June 17, 1997:
In some states, (Republican political consultant) Murphy said,
"the industry is trying to give cover to conservative senators."
The Washington Post reported on June 18, 1998:
"One tobacco ally said the industry assured Republican lawmakers
the companies are willing to spend more money on ads between
now and election day to continue its anti-tax, anti-big government
The five tobacco companies named in this complaint are the five
companies who sponsored the $40 million campaign against S. 1415
over the last several months and presumably are the companies
to whom Sen. McConnell referred when he spoke of the promised
advertising campaign in support of candidates who voted against
cloture in order to defeat this bill.
Therefore, we request that the FEC fully and promptly investigate
this matter and put an end to the illegal "expenditures" by the
tobacco industry on behalf of those senators who voted against
cloture on S.1415.
Matthew L. Myers
Executive Vice President and
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