Local GOP lawmakers rake in tobacco cash

(July 20, 2011)

San Diego Union-Tribune

July 20, 2011

Sacramento — San Diego County Republican lawmakers reaped a trove of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry during the last election cycle, according to a study released Tuesday by the American Lung Association in California.

As the then-Assembly GOP leader, Martin Garrick of Solana Beach took in the second-most contributions among all lawmakers — $15,600 — in 2009-10, according to the report, which has a searchable database.

All told, the tobacco industry gave $71,000 to sitting Republican lawmakers representing all or parts of San Diego County over that period. Not a single local Democratic incumbent received a direct contribution, the study states.

Cigarette makers and distributors contributed $6.5 million to California state candidates in 2009-10, a $4.5 million increase over the 2007-2008 election cycle, according to the association’s numbers.

In 2009-10, one out every two lawmakers were given various amounts of money. The industry also spent $2.76 million on lobbying, much of it dedicated to defeating new tobacco taxes, the lung association reported.

Over a longer period, 2003-10, Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, took in the most tobacco money among current local lawmakers, $47,743. He is the longest serving local Republican in the Legislature, once an assemblyman now a senator.

“The reason we have to go to the voters is because the tobacco industry kills any tobacco tax bills in the Legislature because it has so much influence,” said Debra Kelley, the San Diego-based senior director of advocacy for the lung association.

The report was issued as the lung association and other anti-smoking forces prepare for another election battle, this one over a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes to finance cancer research.

The measure will be on the next general election ballot, which could be in either February or June depending on when the Legislature settles on a date for the presidential primary.

This study, she said, offers Californians a look at the role tobacco money plays in state politics.

The industry has used its influence to bottle up a major bill in a committee friendly to the industry, she said. The Assembly Governmental Organization Committee is holding the measure, Senate Bill 575, that tightens current no-smoking laws in the workplace, including extending the no-smoking rule to owner-operated establishments. Chairman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, received $7,800 from the industry in the last election cycle.

It’s not just lawmakers on the receiving end. The industry spent $3.35 million to pass business friendly initiatives on the November ballot, including one that will force local communities to take proposals to raise taxes and fees on tobacco products and stores to a public vote.

It also contributed $716,000 to the California Republican Party and nearly $400,000 to a political action committee controlled by the California Chamber of Commerce from Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2010, according to the report.

A spokesman for tobacco giant Altria, parent of Phillip Morris USA, which markets Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, declined to comment. RJ Reynolds, makers of Camel, Kool, and Winston, could not be reached for comment.

With the Legislature on summer recess, Garrick and several local lawmakers, could not be reached for comment.

While local Democrats currently in office did not receive tobacco money, two former lawmakers did. Denise Ducheny, who was a senator and assemblywoman from San Diego, received $12,000. Steve Peace, a former assemblyman and senator also from San Diego, received $3,000.

That pales compared with contributions to now-departed Republicans. Then-Assemblyman George Plescia of San Diego received $56,487 and former Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth of Temecula brought in $33,436.