Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth
The idea of running a team of cash-for-comments academic economists was developed by Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations for the Tobacco Institute in 1983 and 1984. At that time the operation was run by one of O&M's contracted consultants, James Savarese, who had both economics and labor/union contacts, and it focussed on a small core-group of academic economists who were found speaking engagements at various society meetings.
Both the Tobacco Institute and Jim Savarese knew Professor Robert Tollison, of the Economics Department of George Mason University who also ran the neo-con/supply-side Public Choice Society. Tollison and his associate Richard Wagner had long worked for the international tobacco lobby organisation ICOSI (later INFOTAB) and they had excellent contacts with a large number of Hayek [libertarian] economists at other universities, due mainly to Tollison's directorship of the Center for the Study of Public Choice, which was located at GMU, but run as a private think-tank.
Tobacco Industry money generously supported the Center, and before long Tollison and Savarese were using it as a recruitment and money-laundry service to develop the cash-for-comments network among appropriate academic economists. The idea was to have at least one "Professor of Economics" at a prominent local university, in each of the States, who was willing to support and promote industry propaganda. They were paid on a piece-work basis, averaging $1,000 to $3,000 each for articles planted in local newspapers, or for appearances as 'independent expert witnesses' at legislative or ordinance hearings on smoking bans, or on the raising of excise taxes on cigarettes.
The first project began in June 1984 with Tollison and Savarese getting 13 economists from their Committee to write op-ed articles in support of the tobacco industry position on excise taxes. They were sent first to the Tobacco Institute for 'improvement' and legal clearance, then returned to the economist who was instructed to plant them on a specific local newspaper, then send copies to their Congressman. This became the pattern of operations which developed into the much larger Cash-for-comment economists' network.
Jim Savarese and Bob Tollison (supported by Anne Tollison and staff from the Center) took over the operations from O&M, and they branched out into a diverse range of cash-for-comments academic networks: professors in law, business, marketing, and advertising, and with indoor-air-quality testing experts, risk-assessment specialists, biomedical researchers, etc.
These academics all had in common the desire to make money from the tobacco industry without revealing their connection to the 'Merchants of Death'. Savarese and Tollison provided them with the shield from 'legal discovery' so they were able to claim that these were "independent expert opinion articles" (op-eds). Some of the better newspapers may also have paid them separately for their journalistic contributions.
Some of the more enthusiastic of these tobacco lackeys were also designated to attend local ordinance hearings on public smoking, and in some cases to attended and gave expert evidence to Congressional inquiries and the like. Their credibility rested on the fact that they were esteemed academics from a university — so, in effect, they mined the credibility of their employer-institution for personal gain.
By 1989 Tollison and Savarese seem to have had about 65 Professors of Economics on their books, and about the same number (combined) in the other academic disciplines. The numbers changed over the years, but overall about 100 professors of economics at various state universities were involved.
Decline The Savarese-Tollison partnership appears to have broken up around 1990, but Savarese continued to run the operation for most of the decade — often using Tollison just as one source (but he was better paid than the others).
Over time — and sometimes abruptly — some of these economists dropped out of the operation. Some obviously did not like their articles being modified by the Tobacco Institute, and [who knows] ... maybe some even developed a conscience?
A few new recruits were added regularly to the networks in the 1990 - 1994 period, but the tobacco companies themselves tended to take control of the biomedical research specialist network [probably because of the legal necessity of dealing with them through lawyers to avoid the risk of legal 'discovery'].
Of the many academic cash-for-comments networks, the economists' lasted the longest, and it was also the most productive from the industry viewpoint.
Some key documents
1984: In 1984 Robert D. Tollison joined forces with four other economists: Harold M. Hochman, Thomas E. Borcherding, Fred McChesney and Dolores T. Martin, to start the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth which later became, "an informal committee of economists from 42 states who have collectively and individually participated in activities on behalf of the tobacco industry in the areas of excise taxation and public smoking.'
This committee was supported by the Tobacco Institute (TI) through Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations (O&M) and James Savarese & Associates. Tollison and James Saverese were old associates.
(SourceWatch) http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Robert_ (etc.)
1984 Oct 26: Federal Excise Program of the Tobacco Institute [has handnotes]
- Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) producing series of brochures with O&M [Ogilvy & Mather]
[Note says "Met with CTJ. See Maureen's memo. Unsatisfactory. We made counter proposal. Names of unions are a must. [Publication should list CTJ membership] resolved."
- Hispanic Groups - Gene Reyes
[Note says "Reyes will come in and make a report next week. LULAC (League of Latin American voters] will do report — we will pay.
- A-K Associates working on Hispanic Groups, and recruitment of Vietnam Veteran's and American Legion groups also.
It also has a Project Plan section which has an entry for Project E.2
- Brochure summarizing position on earmarking of business, health, labor, and seniors organizations. — Obtain agreement from B[ob]. Tollison O&MPR for Committee on Taxation & Economic Growth to sponsor.
[Note: the O&MPR refers to the Tobacco Institute's public relations company, Ogilvy & Mather. O&M's chief disinformation expert at this time was Jim Savarese who later worked directly for the Tobacco Institute. They were organising the economists network through Robert Tollison and Richard Wagner at George Mason University, and the CTEG was just the first stage of this network]
1984 Dec 13: Bill Kloepfer reporting at the Tobacco Institute's Annual Meeting about the success of this early economists network.
The largest immediate issue is excises. We've had consulting economists at Secretary Regan's regional hearings on tax simplification. Each of them have built into the record testimony, calling excise taxes "lousy."
Five of these economists have formed a Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth and with our help have published their views in a pamphlet. They travel anywhere to testify and have been helpful in lining up other expert witnesses.
A tax reform and simplification seminar in Atlanta will be conducted by two of these experts in February. A Member of the House Ways and Means Committee from Atlanta is one of the feature participants. This seminar will place this Congressional Member firmly on the record in front of his own constituents, against excises. A few months later, a similar seminar will be held in New York.
1985 Dec 12: Annual Report of the Tobacco Institute's Public Relations division lists them as working with the Citizens for Tax Justice:
[who have] Participated in the economic news service organized by the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth.
The same document also has a separate section for the Committee, who's chairman was given as Bob Tollison [ of GMU, Center for Study of Public Choice, and organiser of the cash-for-comments network]
Nature of Relationship:
Ogilvy & Mather and Jim Savarese worked with Professor Bob Tollison (George Mason University) in organizing an informal committee of economists from 42 states who have collectively and individually participated in activities on behalf of the tobacco industry in the areas of excise taxation and public smoking.
- Delivered testimony at U.S. Treasury Department hearings held in Los Angeles, Springfield, Minneapolis, New York and Atlanta on the subject of tax reform.
- Prepared brochure on excise tax reform featuring excerpts of Committee members' statements at the U.S. Treasury hearings.
- Prepared brochure opposing earmarking of the cigarette excise for Medicare financing featuring statements from many concerned organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Medicare Board of Trustees.
- Organized a news service providing information on tax reform to small and mid-size newspapers around the country. The series consists of editorials and Q&As featuring economists from the Committee and members of other concerned organizations.
- Delivered papers on excise taxation at major meetings of economic societies around the country. These groups included the Public Choice Society, the Western Economic Association, the Southwestern Social Science Association and the Eastern Economic Association.
- Prepared and delivered testimony on excise taxation at the federal level. Such testimony included statements delivered before the full House Ways & Means Committee opposing the extension of the 160 excise tax; testimony delivered before the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on the effects of the tax burden on low-income workers; and testimony before the joint hearing of the Tobacco & Peanuts Subcommittee and the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on earmarking the cigarette excise for tobacco price supports.
(Also assisting with public smoking legislation.)