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MOLLY IVINS Money for Murder As we watched the tobacco bill die an unnatural death last month, it left only sour satisfaction to those of us who believe that money runs American politics. We now have the cleares4 most definitive proof any long-suffering campaign-finance reformer could ever hope for, that money counts more than the public interes4 more than children health, and more than people,’s lives, in a political system so corrupted by money that it stinks to the highest heavens. 0 ur politicians can twist this truth, they can distort it, they can spin it ’til they’re blue in the face, but the truth still sits there bigger than Godzilla. The tobacco industry has been spending between $4 million and $5 million a week for eight weeks now on radio and television advertising to defeat this bill a total of at least $40 million just in the last two months, according to Ira Teinowitz of Advertising Age magazine. And that’s not counting the money that big tobacco has sunk into the political system. Between 1987 and 1997, Philip Morris Company 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 seventy-six senators, according to Common Cause have accepted tobacco-industry PAC money during the past eleven years. A total of $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, 0 Lord, how long? There are studies going back to the 1940s about the link between tobacco and cancer. The first surgeon general’s report warning that smoking causes cancer appeared in 1964. Every year since then, the evidence has mounted and mounted and ‘mounted. Thirty-four years, 50,000 studies, and millions of smoking-related deaths later, we now know that the tobacco industry fought to suppress the information and paid for phony studies trying to prove it wasn’t true. We know that tobacco executives lied to Congress, they savagely went after whistle-blowers from their ranks, and they 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 really know or weren’t sure or were TO BE BLUNT ABOUT IT, THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY HAS MURDERED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. MORALLY, IT IS JUST AS GUILTY AS ADOLF HITLER. 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 is not a question of “not understanding.” Big tobacco understands, all right, and has engaged in a massive cover-up. Tobacco and its bought tools in Congress have twisted this bill in every fashion imaginable, claiming that it will result in an uncontrollable black market for cigarettes, that it will help wealthy trial lawyers, that it’s a “big government” solution, and my personal favorite that it is a regressive tax on the poor. That last bit of blatant hypocrisy, com ing 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. It is the tobacco industry that is to blame. It isn’t these families. How elite and arrogant it is for those on the other side of the aisle to cry these crocodile tears for workini families and their children, who are going to get cancer. 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 Senator Orrin Hatch originally proposed, but even this imperfect bill died, because tobacco paid the political piper and called the tune. ANDERSON & COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip 22 TH8 TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 3, 1998