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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tobacco Industry Political Activity in Colorado 1979-1995


The tobacco industry is a major and increasing political force in Colorado through campaign contributions, lobbying, and initiative campaigns.

The tobacco industry has become a major source of campaign contributions to legislative and statewide candidates. In the 1979-1980 election cycle, the industry contributed only $725 to legislative candidates. In the 1993-1994 election cycle, contributions to legislative and statewide candidates increased to $60,800. In 1995 alone, the tobacco industry has contributed $37,350 to current legislators and state constitutional officers. This puts the industry at a pace to exceed its 1993-1994 election cycle donations.

In 1994, the combined contributions of Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and the Tobacco and Candy PAC ranked sixth among top contributors to legislative and statewide candidates in Colorado.

In the 1993-1994 cycle, 89% of tobacco industry contributions went to incumbent legislators. Although the tobacco industry has provided some support to challengers, most contributions are to support incumbents.

The tobacco industry contributes higher sums of money to legislative leaders and key committee members. House Speaker Chuck Berry (R-El Paso) has received $5,150 since 1984. President pro tem of the Senate, Tilman Bishop (R-Mesa), has received $3,225 since 1982. Almost 36 percent of the contributions to legislative candidates in 1995 went to legislators who are currently on the Legislative Council -- a joint committee of the state legislature that has the power to regulate smoking in the state Capitol. Members of the powerful Joint Budget Committee have also received significant contributions from the tobacco industry.

In addition to providing campaign contributions, the tobacco industry is active in lobbying members of the legislature and the administration. In 1993 and 1994, the tobacco industry spent $263,559 in lobbying expenditures. The trend is that the tobacco industry will exceed that amount during the 1995-96 session. In 1995, the tobacco industry spent $144,438 in lobbying expenditures, an increase in the rate of lobbying expenditures over the previous election cycle. The tobacco industry became an especially active lobby in 1987 and 1988, after a number of local smoke free ordinances were passed in Colorado municipalities.

In 1994, Amendment 1, the initiative to increase Colorado's excise tax on a pack of cigarettes by fifty cents, was defeated. The tobacco industry spent over $5.5 million to defeat the initiative.

A statistical relationship exists between tobacco industry campaign contributions and state legislative behavior. The more money a legislator receives, the less likely he or she is to support tobacco control efforts. The tobacco industry also tends to contribute more money to legislators that have supported the industry in the past.

The Colorado General Assembly appears to be anti-tobacco control in contrast to public opinion and Colorado local governments where most tobacco control efforts have been enacted.

Despite public opinion in favor of clean indoor air and vigorous local tobacco control efforts, the Colorado General Assembly has not supported tobacco control issues. The General Assembly tends to pass weak legislation regarding tobacco control.

Increased tobacco industry political spending at the state level appears to coincide with increased tobacco control action in local communities.

The tobacco industry seeks preemptive legislation to counteract local tobacco control efforts. State preemption bills were introduced in 1993 and 1996, but public health groups stopped them both times.

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