GASP Education Center

Boulder Election Expenses Withheld by Big Tobacco 1999

Philip Morris PR Firm Appears to Have Run Campaign, But Didn\'t Report it

GASP of Colorado (Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution) has uncovered internal documents indicating that Philip Morris did not report all its expenses in the 1995 Boulder no-smoking initiative campaign. POGO (the opposition) reported receiving $22,255 in donations, with a minimal amount coming directly from tobacco companies. The group used an attorney who works for the tobacco lobby, got donations from retailers, and the Colorado Tobacco and Candy Association. The opposition denied until the very end that they were getting help or money from Big Tobacco. Proponents of the ordinance (FAIR) knew that other tobacco industry consultants were helping the opposition behind the scenes and not reporting it to the city clerk. However, no concrete proof was available at the time to verify this information.

Now, four years later, internal documents unearthed by GASP of Colorado confirm that the opposition used the services of a Philip Morris consulting firm as early as July 1995 -- almost five months before the election. In reviewing the disclosure statements of the opposition, the earnings of those consultants (Russell, Karsh & Hagan Public Relations) were never reported. Those documents show that the Philip Morris PR firm aided the opposition by writing and submitting letters to the editor, composing op-ed pieces, arranging editorial board meetings, developing messages, preparing press releases, arranging press conferences and radio interviews, preparing opponents for radio shows and press conferences, contacting news media to generate unfavorable press, assisting with PR activities in a lawsuit, and day-to-day consulting.

"In my view, those type of activities indicate to me that this Philip Morris consultant was running the campaign to oppose Boulder\'s no-smoking ballot issue without ever reporting it to elected officials," said Pete Bialick, President of the statewide nonsmokers\' rights group. "I wouldn\'t be surprised if these activities entailed $50,000 to $250,000 in campaign costs that were never reported to the city," said Bialick.

"Furthermore, I believe that the Philip Morris PR firm deliberately withheld expenses to avoid further influencing Boulder voters from supporting the smoking ban," Bialick added. The tobacco industry knows that they have a bad image and suggest keeping a low profile in local anti-smoking campaigns, according to internal documents and statements by tobacco lobbyists. GASP of Colorado is checking with the Attorney General to see if the actions by Philip Morris violated any laws or constituted any form of fraud.

GASP of Colorado also recently uncovered other evidence that Philip Morris may have laundered money to oppose the 1995 campaign through the Colorado Restaurant Association. The Association spent $5,000 opposing the campaign. According to records obtained on the CIVIC campaign disclosure website, the Colorado Restaurant Association PAC received $5,000 from Philip Morris at the end of 1995 and another $7,500 at the beginning of 1996.

These documents and other internal documents show that Big Tobacco continues to pour substantial money into opposing regulations on smoking while hiding behind front groups and individuals.

Some of the Documents

Internal documents indicate that Russell, Karsh & Hagan Public Relations (which represents Philip Morris) actively assisted the opponents of the 1995 Boulder no-smoking ballot issue from July through November 1995. Documents indicate that the consulting firm was receiving a $3,500 retainer plus 15% OOP reimbursement (Bates #2048226946). Furthermore, other documents indicate the firm also received $50,000 for special projects.

Memos and reports found at Philip Morris document site. Most of the memos are related to Russell, Karsh & Hagan Public Relations (Representing Philip Morris)

This is just a sampling of the information in some of the documents:

Media Affairs Consultants Activity Report

July 1995 (Bates #2047870025)

"Op-ed piece and LTE\'s to Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder County Business Review and the Colorado Daily on the impact of smoking ban to restaurant and bar business (drafted by R?&H for director of POGO -- People Opposed to Government Overregulation and on behalf of Boulder Restaurant and Bar owners/managers."

Media Affairs Consultants Activity Report

September 1995 (Bates #2044420888)

"Ongoing agency-developed LTE\'s on behalf of Boulder coalition, People Opposed to Government Overregulation, in regards to opposing smoking ban/ballot initiative slated for November 7 Boulder city ballot. Distribute to Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder County Business Review, and the Colorado Daily on impact of smoking ban to restaurant and bar business and overall opposition to recent decision by city council."

"Agency assistance in pitching Boulder restaurant manager and spokesperson for citizen\'s coalition opposing the smoking ban, People Opposed to Government Overregulation to Denver\'s #1 talk radio station, KOA and the "Mike Rosen Show." An interview will be scheduled for spokesperson and a city council member in the near future, closer to the election. Agency will assist in securing interview, supplying background materials to radio station, as well as media train and rehearse spokesperson for interview."

Media Affairs Consultants Activity Report

October 1995 (Bates 2044270540)

"Ongoing LTE\'s in Boulder\'s newspapers about the continued smoking ban issue slated for the Nov. 7 ballot."

"Agency inspired "Letters from Gil Spencer" column from former editor Gil Spencer, Denver Post, on the excessiveness of the proposed Boulder smoking ordinance."

"Vote No on 2C proactive media strategies -- Assistance with Boulder coalition and proactive media activities for Ballot Issue 2C including arranging editorial board meetings, conducting radio interviews and preparation for the press conference. In addition, ongoing assistance with the development of messages, press releases, LTE\'s and op-ed pieces opposing the issue."

  • Submission of op-ed in Boulder Daily Camera.

  • Lengthy Letter to the Editor in the Boulder Business Report

  • Press release on complaint filed against Boulder city council for usurping the petition process.

    October/November 1995 MAN Activity Report (Bates #2044270225)

    Denver (Russell, Karsh & Hagan):

    "Continued media assistance and development of ongoing media materials on behalf of Boulder coalition, , People Opposed to Government Overregulation

    Colorado Springs Ballot Issue 1985 (RJR site #50509 6825)

    To Hurst Marshall from Stan Bowman (Tobacco Institute Rep. in Colorado)

    "A major factor to be considered when formulating plans to combat the Colorado Springs ballot issue is the public attitude toward the tobacco industry in general and The Tobacco Institute in particular. Experience with the recent Fort Collins election demonstrated "anti-smoking groups\' success at distilling the public smoking issue to an :us against big tobacco" matter."

    "A frontal assault by the Institute against the ordinance is probably not advisable. Instead, TI should assume a \'low profile\' policy in this instance, and quietly utilize what resources are available."