July 22, 2015

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Health advocates need to put heat on California "GO" Committee to rescue tobacco control legislation

For years (decades?) the Assembly Government Organization Committee (GO) is where the Assembly Speaker sends tobacco control legislation to die.
It served this function recently when it killed two bills that had passed the Senate, one to include e-cigarettes in California’s clean indoor air law and youth access law and another to raise the age of purchase of tobacco to 21.
Adam Gray (D-Merced), of course, denied that all the tobacco money he accepted had any effect on his policy decisions.  According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News,

Gray refuted health advocates' claims that the $38,100 in campaign contributions he's accepted from tobacco companies over the last 2 1/2 years, including $8,400 he received in May, has influenced his work under the Capitol dome. He also denied having any contact with Big Tobacco about the bill.
"My re-election campaign and my public policy work are entirely separate issues," Gray said. "I don't talk about them together because campaign contributions never have any impact on the public policy decisions I make as a lawmaker."

The obvious question is why the Assembly sends tobacco control legislation to the Government Organization Committee.  After all, whether e-cigarettes are included in clean indoor air laws or the age for tobacco purchase should be raised to 21 doesn’t have anything to do with “government organization.”
The reason is a bit of institutionalized corruption in the California Assembly.  In addition to things that you would expect to see the Government Organization Committee handling (public records, open meetings laws, state holidays, outdoor advertising and emergency services/natural disasters), the GO Committee handles legislation that impacts some of the state’s most influential moneyed industries including alcohol, Indian gaming, horseracing, gambling, and, of course, tobacco.
As a result, GO is a place for Democrats in competitive districts who need money.  In addition to GO Chair Adam Gray ($20,100 in 2013 and 2014 from tobacco interests and $38,100 from Altria and RJ Reynolds in 2013 through 2015) and Assemblymembers Rudy Salas Jr. ($17,600 in 2013 and 2014 from tobacco interests) and Ken Cooley ($1,300 in 2013 and 2014 from tobacco interests).  KQED reported that Other members of GO who have accepted tobacco money have been awarded powerful committee chair positions for their ability to fundraise including Assemblymember Tom Daly ($15,100) who chairs the Insurance Committee and Assemblymember Henry Perea ($5,000) who chairs the Agriculture Committee.
While Gray and his GO colleagues killed these tobacco control bills in the regular legislative session, the bills are still alive (as well as other tobacco control policies, including a tobacco tax increase) because they have been re-introduced in a special session on health care issues.
Health groups and concerned citizens need to use the fact that the GO members are in tough districts to turn their support for Big Tobacco into a political liability back home.  These legislators need to be held accountable for their behavior in community meetings where they can’t hide from the people they are supposed to represent.


An interesting side note that highlights the behavior of the GO members:  Assemblymember Mike Gatto, the most powerful fundraiser in the history of the California Assembly, and has a longstanding policy of rejecting campaign money from tobacco and oil companies.
More information on Tobacco Industry Campaign Contributions is available in our report on tobacco control policy making in California and a report from the ALA Center for Tobacco Policy, as well as an excellent report last year in the Sacramento Bee.
Elizabeth Cox helped prepare this blog post.

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