Philip Morris Disputes Charge It Uses Donations To Buy Influence With PM-Tobacco Lobby-Ethics
NEW YORK (AP) _ Philip Morris Inc. disputed a charge that it uses charitable contributions to buy influence with lawmakers, saying its contributions were intended to help communities where it does business.
The charge that Philip Morris had given millions to charities in lawmakers’ states and districts to sway the lawmakers was based on documents that a health advocacy group said it had obtained from the tobacco conglomerate’s Washington lobbying office.
Federal laws limit corporate contributions to politicians, but corporations are free to give as much as they want to charities.
Eric Solberg, executive director of Houston-based Doctors Ought to Care, said the documents arrived in the mail as computer files on floppy disks. He said an unidentified caller told him the files were from computers in Philip Morris’ Washington office.
″What gets people elected is support from their constituents,″ said Solberg. ″Philip Morris has learned to get congresspeople support by donating to charities in their districts.″
The documents do not indicate that the lawmakers were aware of the contributions, but Solberg said he believes the lawmakers are aware of them and understand their political value.
Craig Fuller, vice president for corporate affairs at Philip Morris Inc. in New York, neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the documents. But he emphatically denied that the company’s donation program is driven by political goals.
″It’s directed toward helping communities in which we have people living or working or consuming our products,″ he said Thursday. After the contributions are made, he said, ″it’s certainly understandable that our Washington office would be interested in our activities.″
″It’s possible that elected officials would bring to our attention community needs,″ he said. ″But that happens on both sides of the aisle.″
James W. Dyer, a White House deputy for legislative affairs, was a Philip Morris lobbyist during the period covered by the documents, roughly 1989 to 1991. He confirmed incidents reported on what appear to be his expense accounts; that suggested the documents are legitimate.
He also confirmed that Philip Morris pursued a strategy of making charitable contributions to organizations in the districts of key legislators.
″They did do a lot of charitable contributions,″ he said. ″That’s not a campaign contribution.″
The tactic of contributing to charities to sway legislators has increased in recent years, said Donna Edwards, an attorney with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch in Washington.
She also noted that charity contributions are tax-deductible, meaning that taxpayers are partly ″footing the bill, in lost revenue.″
″All of this stuff is done in the context of buying access to influence,″ Edwards said. ″It has effectively stalled legislation that would be good for the health of most Americans.″
A file on Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis., shows that during the past decade Philip Morris made some 5,000 separate contributions totaling more than $6 million to high schools, colleges, public television, arts organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Kidney Foundation and other groups in Wisconsin.
Two Philip Morris divisions, Oscar Mayer Food Corp. and Miller Brewing Co., are headquartered in Wisconsin.
Mary Crawford, Kasten’s press secretary, said Kasten ″has never talked to anybody at Philip Morris about any charitable contributions, period.″
Similar but smaller files on several other lawmakers were also obtained by Doctors Ought to Care, Solberg said.
The 89-page file on Kasten begins with a biography of him and a summary of his positions on issues important to Philip Morris. It then goes on for 80 pages, listing Philip Morris contributions to Wisconsin organizations. The file does not say that Kasten was aware of the contributions.
Earlier this week, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group identified Kasten as the Senate’s leading recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions, with $59,402 since January 1991 and a total of $67,652 for his 1992 campaign.
Campaign finance laws bar corporations from contributing to election campaigns, but allow companies to create political action committees that can contribute.
The laws limit individuals to a $1,000 contribution per election and political action committees to $5,000. But there is no limit to the number of political committees that can be formed, Edwards said.