When Philip Morris tells a politician it wants to make a contribution, it's not just blowing smoke.
A recent Los Angeles Times report pegs the maker of Marlboro cigarettes as the single largest contributor to politicians. And, according to a pile of internal Philip Morris documents obtained by Westword, Coloradans have gotten their share. The documents are dated (most are from 1990), and they don't illustrate anything illegal, but they do offer a glimpse at what the tobacco giant gets for its money.
Congressman Dan Schaefer is a big fan of auto racing (in fact, he once raced stock cars), so he was a natural to receive an invitation to the 1990 Phoenix Grand Prix, paid for in part by the tobacco company--which was then fighting a proposal by Democratic representative Henry Waxman to restrict tobacco advertising and increase federal tobacco regulation.
An internal 1990 Philip Morris memo from RYM (lobbyist Robert Maples) to KML (Philip Morris vice president Kathleen "Buffy" Linehan) describes the response of the company's honored guests, including Schaefer, a Jefferson County Republican, and Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire:
"Two words describe Grand Prix racing--World Class! Having been to other races previously, staff was very impressed with the splendor and excitement of a Grand Prix event (as was our special guests). The Grand Prix gave staff the opportunity to spend relaxed, quality time with Senator Rudman and Representative Schaefer.
"In separate independent conversations, both Senator Rudman and Representative Schaefer firmly sounded support for tobacco companies to advertise and sponsor athletic events. Both gentlemen seemed to enjoy themselves immensely and expressed interest in attending the June Grand Prix in Montreal (an indicator of a good time!).
"It's obvious that Representative Schaefer sides with the anti-Waxman crowd. Representative Schaefer did not know of Representative Waxman's latest legislation--but [said], 'if we need any help with Henry, let me know.'
"On the political scale, I score the event an 8."
In retrospect, RYM might rank it even higher: Waxman's bill was defeated.
Even though he took $16,000 in tobacco contributions in his last congressional race, Schaefer insists he's not soft on tobacco.
"Any insinuation that they bought his vote is not correct, and he takes offense at that," says Dana Perino, Schaefer's spokeswoman. As for the Grand Prix weekend, she adds, "he doesn't recall having any detailed legislative discussions at all."
Another memo on Philip Morris letterhead that identifies it as inter-office correspondence was sent by Jim Dyer, then the head lobbyist for Philip Morris in Washington, D.C., to Ehud Houminer, then the company's CEO.
"I am pleased you have agreed to attend the Chairman's Foundation Dinner at the White House next Tuesday," the memo reads. "The Chairman's Foundation is sponsored by the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee as a forum for executives of the nation's business community to meet with Bush Administration officials and Republican Senators in an informal atmosphere...With all of the conversation about budget and taxes that has surfaced in Washington, this dinner will give you the opportunity to meet not only the President, but the members of the Committee that will be writing the Senate's version of the 1991 Budget."
Among the guests who would be attending the dinner in the Indian Treaty Room--"one of the most elegant and historic rooms in the White House complex," Dyer notes--was Bill Armstrong, a Republican who was then Colorado's senior senator.
Armstrong's name comes up again in a May 1990 memo from Dyer to "Buffy" (Kathleen Linehan). At the time, lawmakers were contemplating an excise tax on cigarettes; in the memo, Dyer reports on his conversations with the likes of Ed Rollins, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm and Armstrong, who had already announced he would not be running again.
"Bill Armstrong told the President that no new taxes is the core of the Hank Brown campaign in Colorado," Dyer notes, "and that a change in that stance would kill his candidacy."
(Armstrong is out of the country and could not be reached for comment regarding his night in the Indian Treaty Room or his other appearances in the Philip Morris memos.)
Another Dyer missive outlines his vision for how Philip Morris should be perceived in Washington. "To the extent that we are known, it is as a tobacco company with a track record of good charitable work (and good parties)," Dyer writes.
While the documents detail parties stretching from the Phoenix Grand Prix to the Indian Treaty Room, they also indicate the nature of some of that charitable work. One 23-page spreadsheet lists each of the organizations to which one division of Philip Morris gave money, including the amount and the reason the tobacco company might want to support that group. For example, next to the notation of a $3,000 contribution to the American Association for Affirmative Action is this addendum: "National President, Dr. Robert Ethridge, co-authored TI [Tobacco Institute] publication, 'Towards A Civil Rights Approach to Smoking,' in 1987."
Some links are even more direct. A check for $1,000 went to the New Jersey Black Issues Convention simply because it was requested by Newark City Councilman Donald Tucker.
Philip Morris's biggest donations, though, were reserved for politicians themselves--even if the money sometimes took a circuitous route to get there.
"Enclosed please find a check for $500 from the Philip Morris PAC," Dyer writes in a memo to a Mississippi congressman. "Another check for $500 has been sent under separate cover from our Kraft General Foods division."
The separate check made it look like the politician wasn't receiving that much tobacco money. And Philip Morris's lobbyists certainly understand that appearances matter.
Here's a portion of a Linehan memo outlining the company's plans to create the appearance of public opposition to a tax on cigarettes: "Our grassroots, grasstops, employee communications, TBN, etc., should go into high gear now. We should activate every tool at our disposal immediately. I have a feeling this is not a test, this is the real thing."
Eventually, George Bush and the budget negotiators dropped the idea of an excise tax, convinced in large measure by exactly this kind of lobbying--which political pundits would dub "astroturf," to distinguish it from genuine grassroots campaigns.
Another Philip Morris memo--a classic example of astroturf from the company's lobbyists--lists elected officials who might have some influence on budget negotiations alongside a list of local business leaders who could be effective in contacting the elected officials.
But Philip Morris executives are not shy about contacting government officials themselves. As Dyer writes one congressman: "I hope you will enjoy the enclosed picture taken at the Republican Leader's Golf Tournament. We may not have won, but we were the best looking group out there!"
And in a memo dated March 18, 1990, Dyer connects directly with the White House in a note to Nicholas Calio, an assistant to the president for legislative affairs:
"Dear Nick: Again may I prevail upon your good graces? Enclosed is a picture of the President and Mrs. Bush with R. William Murray, Vice Chairman of Philip Morris Companies, Inc. Mr. Murray would like to get both pictures autographed for display in his office. We would like a short note to read 'To Bill, With best wishes, George Bush.'
"As always, thanks for taking care of the Alumni. Best regards, James W. Dyer."
Visit www.westword.com to read related Westword stories.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter