Tobacco Industry Campaign Contributions Influence State Legislators' Votes

June 09, 1998

Tobacco industry campaign contributions swayed legislators' tobacco policy votes in five of six politically disparate states examined, according to a UC San Francisco study reported in the June 9 issue of American Journal of Public Health. The UCSF researchers analyzed legislative voting patterns in California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington. Each state was selected on the basis of geographic diversity, varying combinations of partisan control in the legislature, ranges of activity by state and local tobacco control activists, varying degrees of tobacco control policies and data availability.

"The results," said the principal investigator of the study, Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and a member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF, "were significant even after control for partisanship, majority party status and leadership effects." Glantz and his co-author Fred Monardi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies, concluded that as tobacco industry contributions increase, a legislator's tobacco policy becomes more pro-tobacco industry. Likewise, it showed that pro-tobacco votes are rewarded with larger campaign contributions.

The researchers scored legislators on a 0-10 scale, with 0 being pro-tobacco and 10 being pro-public health.

Campaign contributions had the largest effect in Colorado, where a $1,000 contribution was associated with a decrease of 2.5 points in the tobacco policy score. New Jersey was the only state that did not present with a statistically significant influence of campaign funds on voting.

A subset of the study showed that the odds of a California legislator voting pro-tobacco for a particular bill--Assembly Bill 996 in 1994 that would have preempted local tobacco control ordinances in California--increased by 24 percent for each $1,000 in contributions.

The study also revealed that the party in power was an important determinant of tobacco industry campaign contributions in four of the six states. In fact, the industry tended to give more money to the party in power than contributing on an ideological basis. While Republican legislators were generally more pro-industry than Democrats, results did not show an association between the Republican party and campaign contributions in states whose legislatures were controlled by Democrats.

The researchers studied the 1993/1994 election cycle of all of the states but New Jersey, in which they studied the 1994/1995 election year. (New Jersey holds elections in odd-numbered years.)

State legislatures have become a key playing field for influencing tobacco policy, according to Glantz, in part because the federal government has to a large extent deferred policy making on the issue to the states and, in part, because the industry has not had much success at the local level, where local politicians are more likely to be influenced by local citizens' concerns. Partly in reaction to the spread of local ordinances, he said, the tobacco industry has turned to state legislators to lobby for a weak statewide preemptive law that would overturn and prevent stronger tobacco control ordinances. As of January 1, 1997, statewide preemptive legislation existed in 28 states.

One encouraging note, Glantz said, was that the study also found that constituent attitudes in California had a significant effect on legislative behavior. "This change may reflect effective mobilization of public opinion to oppose the tobacco industry by the public health community in California," said Glantz.

The issue of tobacco money in politics is at the center stage nationally, where Congress is debating the future of the tobacco industry. "The question before us today is whether the tobacco industry's money will influence Congress to grant the industry immunity or some other special legal protections or whether it will be used to protect the public health," said Glantz.

Campaign contribution statistics for the study were obtained from disclosure statements available in the specific state agencies. Tobacco policy scores were determined by asking five to seven individuals knowledgeable about their state legislature and the tobacco control policy in their state to rate each legislator on a scale of 0 to 10 and then averaging the votes.

This research was supported by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

University of California - San Francisco

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