Big Tobacco spent big bucks to influence the Montana Legislature, but what did they get?
GOP special interest groups came into the 2011 legislature thinking that they had already won. With big majorities in both houses and a slate of uninformed dolts easily persuaded by slick lobbyists, they would surely have a cakewalk.
Instead, lobbying groups–led by Big Tobacco, Big Insurance (these were the top two spenders) and the Montana Realtor’s Association–were forced to spend only slightly less than last session, as the Billings Gazette reports:
The top spender on lobbying in 2011 was Montana Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association at $160,367.
Second was Altria Client Services and its Affiliates, formerly the Philip Morris USA tobacco company, at $154,326.
The Montana Association of Realtors was third at $142,520.
For all the big money and majorities on their side, the fist pumping coming from the backbone of the GOP’s bankrollers has been weak. At first, it looked like they would get a lot for their money. Republicans, led by Senator Dave Lewis (R-Helena), cut nearly all of the state’s tobacco prevention funding.
Mind you, this wasn’t a move to reduce the tobacco tax , it was a move to divert existing tobacco settlement funding away from prevention programs that help prevent young people from taking up smoking and help for current smokers to quit.
But the Democrats weren’t having it. At the session’s end, Democrats and Schweitzer fought to restore funds for tobacco use prevention, which had been eliminated entirely in the GOP Legislature’s original budget. The funding was restored to $9.4 million for the 2 year budgeting period, though the restored funding level was not as much as the Governor had originally proposed.
So the tobacco companies spent a lot to get a very little. But $160,000 for lobbying a session is a drop in the bucket to Big Tobacco probably, as they spend millions marketing Skoal Rebel and cigarettes to Montanans each year. And it just goes to show what it takes to buy and sell our GOP legisaltors like cracker jack.