Tobacco Money: The Bad

What do Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Chevron Corporation and AT&T Inc. all have in common?  Lots of money?  Well yes, but more specifically they are the only three corporations that spent more on campaign contributions and lobbying in California over a ten-year period (2000 to 2009) than Philip Morris USA Inc. 

Shocking?  No.  We all know that tobacco companies spend millions every year to influence public policy in California.  Disappointing?  Yes.  It is sad that a company that sells products responsible for the leading cause of preventable death in the United States spent more than almost every other company to influence policy in our state.  This means that even with all that we know about the dangers of smoking and the deceptive practices of the tobacco industry, they are still able to influence legislators and voters in our state. 

This data comes from a report by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), a bipartisan commission that oversees campaign finance and lobbying laws in California.  Using data that is reported to the California Secretary of State, the FPPC produced Big Money Talks – California’s Billion Dollar Club, a report that looks at the special interests (labor unions, business associations, corporations and Indian tribes) who spent the most money on contributions and lobbying between 2000 and 2009.  The number one overall spending special interest was the California Teachers Association and the top spending corporation was Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which ranked sixth overall.

Philip Morris USA Inc. ranked ninth overall and only three of the special interests ahead of them are corporations.  The company spent more than $50 million during this time period, with more than $35 million of that spent on the opposition campaign to Proposition 86, the 2006 tobacco tax initiative that was narrowly defeated by California voters.  The major tobacco interests combined to spend more than $62 million on this campaign.  Reynolds American Inc. ranked number 20 in the FPPC report, spending more than $29 million total, with $25.5 million spent to oppose Proposition 86.

The Center’s recent Tobacco Money in California Politics report shows that the tobacco industry is not slowing down on their spending on contributions and lobbying.  With more than $3.85 million spent in 2010 supporting Proposition 26 and opposing Proposition 25 (see page 13 of the report) and with the California Cancer Research Act appearing on the next statewide ballot, it is clear that Philip Morris USA Inc. will remain near the top of any list of top spenders on contributions and lobbying in California.

This post is Part 3 of a four-part blog series on tobacco industry spending in California in coordination with the Center’s recently released Tobacco Money in California Politics report.  See Part 1 for an overview of our report and the California Cancer Research Act and Part 2 for a look at contributions received by California Members of Congress.

— Justin Garrett

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