Delegation Sees No Cloud In Tobacco Firms’ Funds
They’re all nonsmokers from a state that grows no tobacco, but members of Idaho’s congressional delegation have collected thousands in campaign contributions from tobacco interests.
Since 1992, the biggest beneficiary has been 2nd District Rep. Mike Crapo, who received $17,500 from such groups as the U.S. Tobacco Executives PAC, Brown & Williamson Tobacco, the Tobacco Institute PAC, Philip Morris and RJR PAC.
“Generally speaking, he has regularly and recently voted against the interests of tobacco companies in Congress,” said John Hoehne, Crapo’s chief of staff. “The reason I believe they support him so strongly has much more to do with his views on taxation, regulation and things that I think are probably more business-oriented evaluations of Mike’s record.”
Hoehne and Will Hollier, Crapo’s campaign manager, pointed to a 1996 vote for an amendment that would have eliminated funding for agricultural extension services or crop insurance for tobacco; the amendment was defeated. Crapo also voted in favor of extending school substance abuse prevention programs to tobacco in 1994.
“He takes their money and he votes against them, proving that he’s not a pawn of special interests,” said Hollier.
Industry spokesmen say they don’t expect votes in exchange for contributions. Instead, they hope to win access, or to help elect representatives who are likely to listen to their industry’s arguments.
Crapo, a Mormon, has never smoked. He received awards from anti-smoking groups while he was a state legislator for his work against smoking. But he believes states, not the federal government, should regulate tobacco use - a position that’s attractive to the national tobacco lobby.
Sen. Larry Craig used to smoke, but quit. “That’s why he knows that nicotine and cigarette smoking is addictive … there’s no doubt in his mind,” said Craig’s campaign spokesman, Mike Tracy.
Craig has received $19,550 from tobacco interests since 1990, $10,000 of it since 1992.
Tracy pointed to Craig’s 1990 vote in favor of a public education program on the hazards of tobacco use, and a 1985 vote to repeal tobacco price support programs.
“I think Larry understands very well the hazards, but also in accepting money, these industries are all legal and they have the right to participate in the political process under the First Amendment,” Tracy said. “If you start trampling on the First Amendment for one person, where do you stop? The tobacco industry has already had their First Amendment rights trampled on substantially (through bans on TV and radio advertising).”
Tracy also noted that some tobacco manufacturers are part of larger companies involved in other kinds of agriculture. Philip Morris Companies, for example, also owns Kraft Foods. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco is part of RJR Nabisco.
“That’s the business community, it’s agribusiness,” Tracy said.
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne has received $13,000 from tobacco interests since 1992, but the most recent donation was in February 1993.
Kempthorne staffer Brian Whitlock said the senator hasn’t been intentionally passing up tobacco money since then. He just hasn’t been actively fund raising, since he’s not up for election until 1998.
“He accepts all legal contributions and reports them fully,” Whitlock said.
1st District Rep. Helen Chenoweth trails the delegation, with only $1,500 in tobacco contributions, all since 1995. The industry supported Rep. Larry LaRocco in 1994, when Chenoweth was elected.
At the time, polls showed LaRocco ahead. The industry has a record of supporting incumbents and those favored to win.
“So I fooled them,” Chenoweth said. Chenoweth, who smoked for five years, said, “I became educated as to what it was doing to me, and I quit. It wasn’t easy to quit.”
“But it’s still a legal crop and I don’t condemn people for their habits, so long as they don’t try to impose their habits on someone else, and that means second-hand smoke, too.”
Tobacco interests have spent $3.8 million on campaign contributions nationwide since 1993. Contributions to Idaho’s congressional delegation made up less than 1 percent of that. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Tobacco company contributions