Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tobacco Buyout

As Reuters reports, this week, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department dropped their demand for the tobacco industry to pay $130 billion dollar education campaign, replacing it with a request for $10 billion. The request was so strange that it prompted the judge presiding over the case to ask whether there weren't "additional influences" that inspired the change.

Hmmm, influences, eh? What might those be?

As Myron Levin reports in The Los Angeles Times, the change was "forced on the tobacco team by higher-level, politically appointed officials of the Justice Department," including Associate Atty. Gen. Robert McCallum, who oversees the civil division. Prior to his political appointment to the DOJ, McCallum was a former attorney for the tobacco companies.

As David Sirota reports in his blog, McCallum's immediate boss, then-White House counsel and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said in 2001, "we want to foster an atmosphere of cooperation" with Big Tobacco.

Big Tobacco, never afraid of ponying up some campaign cash to protect the franchise, heeded Gonzales' call, giving some $13 million to federal candidates and committees in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Its top recipient in 2004? President Bush, whose Justice Department is trying to let the tobacco industry off the hook for $120 billion in damages.

It should be noted that just like cigarettes don't discriminate between Republican and Democratic lungs, Big Tar Tobacco doesn't discriminate much between parties. While the bulk of its contributions went to the party in power, six Democrats are among the top twenty candidates who received the most money from the industry in 2004.

Talk about a great return on an investment . . .

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