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Turning the Tide: Tobacco Industry Political Influence and Tobacco Policy Making in California 1997-1999


The tobacco industry's trend of giving generously to California legislators continued in the 1997-1998 election cycle. Between January 1, 1997, and December 31, 1998, the tobacco industry contributed $615,145 to state legislators and legislative candidates.

Since 1991-1992, campaign contributions to legislative candidates and parties by the tobacco industry favored the party in power. However, in the 1997-1998 election cycle, reflecting increasingly partisan contributions by the tobacco industry, Republicans received 81 percent of tobacco industry campaign contributions even though the Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature.

The tobacco industry contributed a total of $848,635 to state legislators and legislative candidates, state constitutional officers, political parties and party controlled committees for the 1997-1998 election cycle. This total is less than the three previous election cycles in the 1990s, and is in part most likely due to the passage of Proposition 208, which placed spending limits on individuals, corporations, and PACs for 1997.

On a per member basis, California legislators received more money than the members of Congress, $5,117 per member compared to $4,373 per member. For the 1997-1998 election cycle, Senator Minority Leader Ross Johnson (R- Irvine) the top recipient in California Senate ($111,500) received more money than Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-North Carolina), the top recipient in the United States Senate ($87,999). In addition, Assembly Minority Leader Bill Leonard (R- Rancho Cucamonga) received more tobacco industry campaign contributions ($82,250) than Representative Edward Whitfield (R-Kentucky), who was the top recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions in the House of Representatives ($34,000).

On January 1, 1998, California enacted the country's first state-wide smoke free bar law as an extension of the state smoke free workplace law. The tobacco industry attempted nine times to either delay the enactment of the law, or have the law repealed. The tobacco industry, working primarily through the National Smokers' Alliance, sought to undermine the law by depicting the issue as unfair to small businesses, and problematic in terms of enforcement. Even so, health advocates prevented the law from being repealed.

In November 1998, California elected a Democrat to the governorship for the first time since 1982. Governor Gray Davis had begun to remedy the actions of the Wilson Administration in debilitating the state funded California Tobacco Control Program. Though the funding levels for the Proposition 99 programs were at the voted mandated levels, two suits filed against the state for misappropriation of Proposition 99 funds in 1991 and 1995 remain pending. Governor Davis vetoed $32 million the Legislature had appropriated for anti-smoking education programs.

On June 12, 1997, the State of California became the 37th state to file suit against the tobacco industry. The state sought damages for violations of California Business and Professions Code and recovery of public health care expenditures for tobacco related disease. The state's claims for medicaid reimbursement were dismissed. The remaining claims were consolidated with the City of Los Angeles, the City and County of San Francisco et al., and two private citizen suits against the tobacco industry. These suits were settled by the Multi-State Master Settlement Agreement in November 1998. California will receive approximately $25 billion of the $206 billion settlement over the next 25 years from the industry. In September 1999, the Legislature passed a bill to have these funds dedicated for health services in the state.

Other civil action suits against the tobacco industry are scheduled to be heard beginning in January 2000. These suits are mainly union trust fund suits against the industry, as well as local government failure to warn suits under Proposition 65, the state's toxic enforcement act.

In November 1998, the California voters passed Proposition 10, which resulted in the creation of local agencies throughout the state that will promote child development programs and educational campaigns. The proposition won by a vote of 50.5% to 49.5%, despite the $29,397,147 the tobacco industry spent to defeat it. The program is funded by an additional $.50 tax on cigarettes, and a commensurate tax increase on other tobacco products. The tax increase, along with a price hike from the industry, sales of cigarettes in California decreased 28.6 percent for the first 6 months of 1999.

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