Pubdate: Sun, 21 Jun 1998
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA) 
Author: Molly Ivins, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.



AS WE WATCHED the tobacco bill die an unnatural death Wednesday, it left
only sour satisfaction for those of us who believe money runs American
politics. We now have the clearest, most definitive proof any long-suffering
campaign-finance reformern could ever hope: Money counts more than the
public interest, more than children's health and more than people's lives in
a political system so corrupted by money that it stinks to the highest heavens.

Our politicians can twist this truth, they can distort it, they can spin it
till they're blue in the face, but the truth still sits there bigger than
Godzilla. The tobacco industry has been spending $4 million to $5 million a
week for eight weeks on radio and TV advertising to defeat this bill. That's
not counting the money big tobacco has sunk into the political system. From
1987 to 1997, Philip Morris Co. contributed $8 million to politicians, RJR
Nabisco contributed $7 million, and so on down through the big tobacco
companies -- all of them major, major political contributors.

Three out of four current members of Congress -- 319 representatives and 76
senators, according to Common Cause -- have accepted tobacco-industry PAC
money during the past 11 years. That's $30 million. The soft money given by
tobacco directly to the political parties has exploded: more than $3 million
in 1997 alone. Philip Morris has been the Republican Party's top soft-money
donor for three years running, giving more than $1 million to the party each
year. And you wonder why Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott doesn't like
this bill?

How long, O Lord, how long? Studies go back to the 1940s linking tobacco and
cancer.  The first surgeon general's warning that smoking causes cancer
appeared in 1964. Every year since then, the evidence has mounted and
mounted. Thirty-four years, 50,000 studies and millions of smoking-related
deaths later, we now know the tobacco industry fought to suppress the
information and paid for phony studies trying to prove it wasn't true.
Tobacco executives lied to Congress, savagely went after whistle-blowers
from their ranks and deliberately made their product more addictive, knowing
that it kills. To be blunt about it, the tobacco industry has murdered
millions of people. Morally, it is just as guilty as Adolf Hitler.

It was different when we thought they didn't know or weren't sure or were
just ignoring the evidence. But now we know that they knew -- that they have
known for decades -- that they were killing people. And they kept on doing
it for profit.

Upton Sinclair wrote, ``It is difficult to get a man to understand something
when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'' But this isn't ``not
understanding.'' Big tobacco understands -- and has engaged in a massive

Tobacco and its bought tools in Congress have twisted this bill in every
fashion imaginable, claiming it will result in an uncontrollable black
market for cigarettes, will help wealthy trial lawyers, is a ``big
government'' solution and -- my personal favorite -- is a regressive tax on
the poor.

That last bit of blatant hypocrisy, coming from legislators who have never
cast a vote to help poor people in their lives, caused Ted Kennedy to go
into one of the finest rants heard in the Senate for years:

``I listened to those crocodile tears of our colleagues on the other side of
the aisle about how distressed they are about what is happening to working
families. I give them reassurance, they will have a nice chance to vote for
an increase in the minimum wage later on, and we will see how distressed
they are about all those working families that they are agonizing about and
so distressed because this is a regressive tax.

``The reason it is a regressive tax is because it is the tobacco industry
that has targeted the needy and the poor and the working families of this
country. . . . Those working families care about their children. They care
about them no less than those who come from a different socioeconomic
background.  How arrogant can you be? How insulting can you be to make that
argument on the floor of the U.S. Senate?''

Of course, the bill wasn't perfect. The money should have gone into health
care, especially children's health care, as Kennedy and Sen. Orrin Hatch
originally proposed.  But even this imperfect bill died because tobacco paid
the political piper and called the tune.

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett