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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Holding Government Accountable: Tobacco Policy Making in California, 1995-1997


January 1, 1996 through May 31, 1997 was an active period for tobacco policy making in California. The fight in Spring, 1996, over the allocation of Proposition 99 revenues was more public and aggressive than it had been in the past, an increased level of public scrutiny was brought to bear on the implementation of the media campaign, the state of California’s failure to sue the tobacco industry for recovery of medical costs became a political issue, and the tobacco industry continued to give generously to California legislators.

In 1996, the Legislature and the Governor in 1996 observed the voters’ mandate on the funding levels for the Proposition 99 Health Education programs. The Health Education Account was allocated 20% of the tax revenues, and these funds were appropriated to anti-tobacco education programs instead of to medical services. The Research Account was restored to receiving the 5% of the tax revenues, as the voters had mandated, after several years of receiving less than 1%. This positive action on the part of the Legislature and the Governor followed an aggressive, public campaign on the part of several key constituency groups: the American Heart Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and, to a lesser extent, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.

After the legislative battle, however, the constituency groups were faced with the failure of the Wilson Administration to conduct the kind of aggressive media campaign that it had done in the early years of the program. In particular, the Administration did not want to attack the tobacco industry, a strategy of proven effectiveness in reducing tobacco use. It had only expended $6,554,000 of the $12,197,000 allocated to the media campaign in 1995-1996, and, in 1996-97, did not release any new media until March 20, 1997. The conduct of the media campaign remains a concern for the constituency groups.

The state of California has not yet sued the tobacco industry, although 32 other states had done so as of May 31, 1997. Although Attorney General Dan Lungren has claimed he is prevented from filing a lawsuit under California’s products liability law, many people believe that this is not the case, because lawsuits filed by other states allege fraud, violations of the Business and Professions Code, violations of the racketeering laws, and violations of antitrust laws and breach of warranty. They are not product liability actions. The legislature is considering several laws that would clarify California’s ability to sue, and has passed one such bill and sent it to the Governor for signature.

Campaign contributions by the tobacco industry have tended to favor the party in power 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 1993-94, this increased to 45 percent. In 1995-1996, when the Republicans gained control of the Assembly, 57 percent of the contributions went to them. When the Democrats regained control of the Assembly in November, 1996, however, most of the contributions given between the election and December, 1996, went to Democrats. In California, Republican state legislators are perceived as more pro-tobacco industry than the Democratic state legislators.

The tobacco industry has been generous in California. Between January, 1, 1995 and December 31, 1996, the tobacco industry contributed a total of $1,252,804 to legislative officeholders and legislative candidates. On a per member basis, California legislators in 1995-96 received more money than the members of Congress, $10,440 per member versus $5,044 per member. Both Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno) ($63,750) and Senate President pro Tempore Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) ($127,875) received more money that U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich ($30,500).

The top three recipients of campaign contributions in California in 1995-1996 (Table 5) received more than the top three recipients in Congress in 1995. Lockyer, Assembly Member Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) and Assembly Member Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) received $127,875, $105,750 and $93,926 respectively. In Congress, the top three recipients in 1995-1996 were Congressmen from tobacco growing states. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) and Representative Bart Gordon (D-Tennessee) received $48,500, $35,150 and $33,000; respectively.

Attorney General Dan Lungren was the top recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions among the state constitutional officers in 1995-96, receiving $28,500.

In six California legislative races, tobacco industry campaign contributions were an issue and in four of those, the candidate who was attacked for taking contributions lost.

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