A tobacco giant spent far more than anyone on lobbying in 2018
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Tobacco giant Altria spent a massive $379,760 to lobby the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly – more than twice as much as any of the 720 corporations and associations that are registered to lobby the legislature.
And while the General Assembly’s tax bill included a 50-cent increase in the cigarette tax, a health advocate says Altria was a big winner with that bill because the hike was not the dollar-a-pack hike smoking opponents were seeking and because the tax was not applied to the emerging market of e-cigarettes.
Altria, of Richmond, Virginia, is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, US Smokeless, John Middleton (cigars and pipe tobacco), and Nu Mark (e-vapor cigarettes.) And it has long been among the top spenders on trying to influence the Kentucky legislature.
But the $379,760 it reported spending through the first four months of 2018 put it in a league of its own. That figure is more than twice what was spent by the second largest lobbying spender for the period – the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which spent $187,103. And it is more than triple Altria’s own big Kentucky lobbying expenses for the same period in either 2017 or 2016.
Reports show Altria reported spending more for lobbying during the past four months than the combined totals of the bankers association, state teachers union, medical association, hospital association and coal association.
Altria retains three veteran Frankfort-based lobbyists – James “Jitter” Allen, John McCarthy, and Mike Shea. Allen and McCarthy did not return phone messages Thursday. Shea said he was not authorized to speak for the company.
The company’s fourth registered lobbyist is John Rainey, its Richmond-based director of government relations for state government affairs. Courier Journal reported in late March that Rainey visited Frankfort in late March to meet individually with top legislative leaders during private negotiations on the tax bill.
Rainey did not return a phone message Thursday, but the company’s communications office responded with an email asking for more information about this story. Courier Journal replied with an email asking questions about the company’s 2018 lobbying campaign. Altria did not immediately reply to those questions.
All groups that lobby Kentucky lawmakers must report all lobbying expenses to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. This week the more than 700 lobbying groups filed reports for their April expenses, wrapping up reports for the four months spanning the 2018 session.
Those groups combined reported spending a record of more than $10.2 million during the session. In 2016, the year of the previous 60-day legislative session, lobbying groups reported spending $9.5 million.
Records posted on the ethics commission website that after Altria and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce the other groups that spent the most on lobbying were: LG&E and KU Energy, which reported $126,858 in lobbying costs, Kentucky Hospital Association, which reported $111,696, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which spent $110,766 – mostly on an advertising campaign calling for a dollar-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax.
Amy Barkley, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said health advocates had been pushing for the dollar-a-pack increase on cigarettes as a sure way to reduce smoking.
“We ended up with the 50-cent increase and that is about the amount that the industry seems to be able to tolerate. They can make up for a small tax increase by lowering wholesale prices, doing point-of-purchase promotions like coupons,” Barkley said. “They basically got a big win by limiting the increase to 50 cents and another win by not including e-cigarettes in the tax.”
Reports filed by Altria show that it paid its lobbyists $94,440 during the four months. Other costs listed in its reports are: $147,015 for “direct citizen” lobbying, which includes expenses to link citizens with their legislators; $113,823 for professional and technical research; $12,438 for food, beverage, lodging and transportation; and $12,044 for email advertising.
Here’s a complete list of the 20 groups that reported spending the most on lobbying the 2018 General Assembly:
» Altria, $379,760
» Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, $187,103
» LG&E and KU Energy, $126,858
» Kentucky Hospital Assn., $111,696
» Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, $110,766
» 1 800 Contacts, $96,346
» Sullivan University System, $85,332
» Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, $79,376
» Kentucky League of Cities, $77,203
» Anthem Inc., $72,064
» Kentucky Education Association, $71,968
» Baxter Healthcare Corp., $70,000
» Kentucky Justice Assn., $67,060
» Greater Louisville Inc., $66,849
» Kentucky Medical Assn., $65,308
» Kentucky Retail Federation, $62,535
» Kentucky Bankers Assn., $60,728
» Big Rivers Electric, $54,305
» Marsy’s Law For All, $54,240
» U.S. Justice Action Network, $53,500