Echoes of Philip Morris and Hillarycare - Rolling Stone
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Echoes of Philip Morris and Hillarycare

The current campaign to defeat health care reform bears an uncanny resemblance to the one secretly implemented by Philip Morris and its third-party allies in the early 1990s to defeat Hillarycare.

I touched on the Philip Morris campaign, briefly, in “The Lie Machine,” but I’ve since uncovered a bumper crop of additional memos from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library that offer a detailed picture of the cigarette maker’s behind-the-scenes moves to defeat the Clinton health care reform in ’94 — and why the tobacco company was so motivated.

The costs of the Clinton health reform were to be covered, in part, by new tobacco taxes. As this memo from the company’s Washington Relations Office reveals, Philip Morris’ decided it would try beat back this threat by torpedoing health care reform altogether:

To fight Clinton’s proposed 75 cent per pack excise tax increase, we are also working behind the scenes to oppose the Clinton package as a whole.

Philip Morris knew it couldn’t be out in front, as one executive explained in this April, 1994 presentation detailing what the company called its “Tobacco Strategic Attack Plan”:

We do a great deal under the heading of Allied Attacks where friendly third parties are engaged on our side but without direct or obvious connection to the industry.


The polling told us two years ago that almost any organization other than a tobacco company had more credibility. That is still true and the work of our “allies” is more important than it has ever been.

Who were those allies? This March 22, 1994, “Tobacco Strategy Review” marked “confidential” lists Philip Morris’ friends in the foxhole, including, notably, the Manhattan Institute, where one Betsy McCaughey was a fellow:

— Third Party support is important. We provide assistance to Citizens for a Sound Economy, Center for Policy Analysis, Manhattan Institute and numerous other organizations.

[To read about Philip Morris’ claim of having helped shape McCaughey’s infamous assault on the Clinton plan for the pages of the New Republic as well as McCaughey’s denial click here.]

The documents tell us the most about Philip Morris’ payments to Citizens for a Sound Economy — which would later split, producing contemporary anti-healthcare Astroturf giants Americans For Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

To influence swing Democrats in the House, PM quietly paid CSE to gin up a “grassroots” anti-tax rebellion, as detailed in this memo:

Health Care Reform/Taxes

— The House Energy and Commerce Committee will be a key battleground over the Clinton health care plan, and we are giving $400,000 to Citizens For A Sound Economy – a free market based grassroots organization — to run a grassroots program aimed at “swing” Democrats on the Committee .

Citizens for a Sound Economy’s effort bore a striking resemblance to the town-hall campaign waged this August by its offspring. This “Tobacco Strategy” memo describes CSE’s program in full swing, replete with a mobilization of up-in-arms constituents at town halls:

Citizens for a Sound Economy

We are funding a major (400K) grassroots initiative in the districts of House – Energy & Commerce members to educate and mobilize consumers, through town hall meetings…meetings with Members and staff and the release of studies and other educational pieces. The goal of this effort is to show the Clinton plan as a government-run health care system….

A later memo — notes for an executive’s “Board Presentation, March 30, 1994” — brags about the toll the town hall campaign was exacting on swing Democrats:

We have also targeted the Democratic swing votes through third party groups, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy… As a result of the controversy emanating at the grassroots level, Subcommittee Chairman Waxman could not produce the votes to pass legislation out of his Subcommittee….

In addition to relying on third-party groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy, Philip Morris also created its own multifaceted political campaign to defeat the proposed Federal Excise Tax [FET] on tobacco products. Notes from another executive’s speech at same March ’94 board meeting reveal the strategy:

The FET is a top priority for us. In fact, because the issue has taken on the proportions of a political campaign, we’re treating it as one…

Indeed, the company brought in big guns, including the recent former head of the RNC:

…we’ve hired former GOP National Chairman Rich Bond and his company to coordinate our grassroots effort.

Much as the insurance industry’s top lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has done in the current health care debate, Philip Morris tapped its own employees to play the part of concerned citizens:

PM USA employees have been especially active… The recent march in Washington drew nearly 20,000 tobacco workers, the majority of them PM USA employees.

Philip Morris also reached out to collaborate with the competition as revealed in this April 4, 1994 memo:



This “Task Force” was star-studded. Indeed, it was anchored by a former top George H.W. Bush consultant who would go on to found FoxNews:


Roger Ailes, public affairs strategist

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