Tobacco Companies Spending Like Desperate Addicts to Beat Prop 29

Reagan Chesterfield ad crop

Not as sophisticated a pitch as in the old days. (And get a look of that acting!)

You probably haven’t even heard of Prop 29 yet — I’ll explain what it is down below — but you’re going to.   You’re going to be seeing a whole lot of ads, pretty soon, from a group called “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending.”

Whatever the differences in our ideologies, I think that we can all agree that Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending are bad things.  “Under control” taxes and spending ought to be enough for any of us.  “Out-of-control” spending suggests people (natural or corporate) acting like drug addicts desperate for a fix.  The most out-of-control spending I’ve seen this week, in fact, is that by a group of drug pushers, desperate not to lose any of their client base, going under the name, umm,“Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending.” Oh, dear — what bitter irony.

“Drug pushers,” you ask?  Well, how else to describe the major funders of this organization, contributing money at a clip that would make Meg Whitman herself swallow her tongue.  Here, take a look at a list of their recent contributions.  It’s the rare campaign finance story where you can just say “let’s just ignore any contributions under $200,000,” but to keep this story to a manageable size in this case one pretty much has to.  As of Friday, April 13, with “no year” meaning a contribution within the preceding 366 days, we find:

Phillip Morris USA, Inc. — contributions of $7,004,000 (Feb. 14), $5,031,936 (Apr. 4), two of $656,625 (both on April 6 2011), two of $612,850 (both on Sept. 29), $575,900 (Apr. 4), two of $437,750 (both on Mar. 2, 2011), two of $393,975 (both on May 26, 2011), plus 44 smaller ones.  (I don’t know whether the “duplicates” of a given amount on a different date are in error, or just a sneaky trick to make one think it may be an error.)

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company — contributions of $3,172,000 (Feb. 7) and $2,379,000 (Apr. 5), plus five smaller ones.

UST LLC (better known as U.S. Tobacco) — contributions of $801,600 (Feb. 14) and $575,900 (Apr. 4), plus six smaller ones.

American Snuff Company, LLC — contributions of $500,000 (Feb. 27) and $375,000 (Apr. 5)

Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company — contributions of $328,000 (Feb. 7) and $246,000 (Apr. 5)

(Sorry, John Middleton Co., your eight contributions didn’t quite make the cut.)

This is … impressive.  Through January 2012, all but a handful of contributions had come from Phillip Morris.  Then on Feb. 7, in comes $4,000,000 in contributions spread awkwardly across three companies using the same agency), then $76,175 (all from Phillip Morris) on Feb. 10, then on Valentine’s Day another $8,000,000 (awkwardly divided up among Phillip Morris and its friends) — that’s $12,076,175 in eight days.  Then they got about $10,000 dribbling in from R.J. Reyonolds through April 3, and on April 4 — bam! — another $5,754,853 followed by another $100,000 from Phillip Morris and $3,000,000 oddly divided up from its friends — another almost $8,800,000 in three days.

Something terrible must be coming along!  Something out of control!  What is it?

Proposition 29, if approved, will increase the state’s tax on cigarettes by $1.00 per pack, from 87 cents to $1.87 per pack.  The additional tax revenue from this “Tobacco Tax for Cancer Research Act,”  estimated at $735 million, would be used to fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs, and tobacco law enforcement.  In contrast, Proposition 86, the most recent cigarette tax on the California ballot, which was narrowly defeated  in 2006, would have imposed an additional tax of $2.60 per pack of cigarettes, so Prop 29’s impact is just over one third as much as that would have been.

I have to admit that this group is right about one thing: something certainly is out of control here, but it’s not taxation or spending — it’s corporate campaign contributions.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)