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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Shifting Allegiances: Tobacco Industry Political Expenditures in California January 1995 - March 1996

  • Author(s): Monardi, Fred M., Ph.D.
  • Balbach, Edith D., Ph.D.
  • Aguinaga, Stella, MScN, MPH
  • Glantz, Stanton A., Ph.D.
  • et al.

In the past few election cycles, there has been a significant shift in tobacco industry contributions away from the Democratic party and towards the Republican party in California. During the 1991-1992 election cycle, 41 percent of tobacco industry contributions to legislators, legislative candidates, political parties and party controlled committees went to the Republican party. In the 1993-1994 election cycle, contributions to Republicans increased to 45 percent. During the current 1995-1996 election cycle, tobacco industry contributions to the Republican party has increased to 56 percent.

The tobacco industry contributed a total of $553,673 to legislative officeholders and candidates between January 1, 1995 and March 26, 1996. $273,979 of this amount was contributed from January 1, 1996 through March 26, 1996, the date of the primary election.

In California, Republican state legislators are significantly more pro-tobacco industry than Democratic state legislators.

Comparing contributions made to legislators in California to contributions made to current members of Congress, the top three recipients in California in 1995 received more than the top three recipients in Congress in 1995. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), Senator Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), and Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) received $35,250, $28,500 and $25,000; respectively in 1995. In Congress, the top three recipients in 1995 were Congressmen from tobacco growing states. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Representative Lewis Payne (D-Virginia) and Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) received $32,500, $24,500 and $22,500; respectively. In addition, during the last decade, the top recipients in California received more than the top recipients in the United States Congress.

On a per member basis, California legislators in 1995 have received more money than the members of Congress in 1995. The tobacco industry had contributed $2,331 per member in the state of California. In comparison, the tobacco industry contributed $1,859 per member of Congress.

Both former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and current Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle received more tobacco industry contributions in 1995 than United States House of Representative's Speaker Newt Gingrich ($13,500). Willie Brown received $35,250 in 1995. The new Assembly Speaker, Republican Curt Pringle, received $16,250 in 1995.

The tobacco industry has recently been making large last minute contributions in the weeks prior to an election. The tobacco industry made a contribution of $125,000 to Steve Kuykendall a few days before the 1994 general election. The tobacco industy also made several large contributions, including five $20,000 contributions, in the weeks prior to the March 26, 1996 California primary.

In 1988, California voters passed Proposition 99, the Tobacco Tax and Health Promotion Act, increasing the state tobacco tax by 25 cents on a pack of cigarettes and 42 cents on other tobacco products. The initiative also created the largest and most aggressive tobacco control program in the world. The initiative specified how the revenue raised from the tobacco tax would be spent. Twenty percent of the revenues raised were earmarked for health education and five percent was earmarked for research on tobacco related diseases. The Governor and the Legislature have diverted a total of $280 million from anti-tobacco education and research to medical services.

The level of political activity by the tobacco industry in California probably reflects the importance of California's tobacco control program. From enactment on January 1, 1989 through June 30, 1995, the combined effect of the tax increase mandated by Proposition 99 and the effect of the tobacco control programs dramatically accelerated the rate of decline of tobacco consumption in California. These effects reduced total cigarette consumption by 2.1 billion packs of cigarettes, worth $2.9 billion in pre-tax revenues to the tobacco companies. Thus, the tobacco industry has a strong incentive to reduce the magnitude or effectiveness of the Proposition 99 tobacco control programs.

Diversions of Proposition 99 anti-tobacco education and research funds have decreased program effectiveness. Assuming a constant program effect, the result of these diversions was probably the fact that Californians smoked an additional 584 million packs of cigarettes, worth about $880 million in pre-tax sales above that which would have occurred had Proposition 99 been implemented as the voters mandated. Viewed in this context, the $21,139,152 the tobacco industry has spent on campaign contributions, lobbying, and other political activities (excluding $18,974,675 in the tobacco industry's unsuccessful attempt to enact Proposition 188 in 1994) in California since 1989 (when Proposition 99 went into force) was an excellent, and understandable, investment.

Twice in 1995, Superior Court judges have ruled illegal the diversion of monies from the Proposition 99 Health Education and Research Accounts to medical services approved by the Legislature and Governor. In 1996, the Governor has again proposed diverting funds. The Legislature will act this summer.

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