Tobacco giant Reynolds American is pouring big money into hundreds of political races

  • Insider has obtained an internal list of all recent political contributions from a tobacco giant.
  • The company has donated to approximately 800 candidates for state legislature, political action committees and ballot initiatives.
  • American Reynolds brands include Camel and Newport cigarettes.

Menthol in flavored cigarettes and cigars may soon be banned, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state legislatures carefully prepare to regulate or legislate them in history.

But one tobacco giant — Reynolds American — is actively doling out millions of dollars to hundreds of political candidates and political action committees at the state level, according to an internal corporate governance document reviewed by Insider.

Reynolds American, best known for brands such as Newport and Camel cigarettes, distributed nearly $6 million among more than 800 state-level political candidates, political action committees and ballot initiative committees in 2021, indicates an analysis of the document.

In total, Reynolds American directly donated to candidates and committees in 31 states plus the District of Columbia, according to its document. Florida, California, Georgia and New Jersey were among Reynolds American’s top targets.

Reynolds American also donated an additional $3.84 million to political committees and organizations at the federal level, with the vast majority going to Republican-aligned groups.

Itself owned by British American Tobacco, Reynolds American is the parent company of the American Snuff Company, the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company and the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, which produces the world-famous Newport and Camel cigarettes. Newport is one of the leading brands of menthol cigarettes in the country.

Although not legally required to do so, Reynolds American compiles an annual list of political contributions across federal and state politics.

The company’s list of contributions is not perfect – the document contains spelling mistakes and at least once confused a candidate’s party affiliation. Reynolds American’s document says he made a campaign contribution to New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, but Grisham’s office told Insider the governor received no such contribution, which State campaign finance papers argue.

But the data provides insight into how the nation’s second-largest tobacco company is trying to broadly sway lawmakers and otherwise participate in low-key elections that nonetheless may have notable political implications for companies marketing tobacco products. to smoke.

Reynolds American has favored conservatives in its political giving, with more than 80% of its 2021 contributions — more than $5 million — going to Republican candidates and committees. Democrats and Democratic-aligned committees, however, received less than $700,000 in total from Reynolds American.

Reynolds American did not respond to Insider’s numerous requests for comment.

But Reynolds American, in a posting on its website, explained that its political donations are “consistent with their corporate interests” and their guiding principles and beliefs. Reynolds American says it considers several factors when donating to a politician, including geography and whether a politician sits on committees that overlap with tobacco industry interests.

“Contributions must be lawful and in the interests of the organization rather than the individual interests of any employee, officer or director,” the website states. “All proposed corporate contributions go through a review process to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations and to determine that they are in the best interests of the RAI companies.”

Insider reached out to more than 25 of the contestants who received money from Reynolds American, but none were willing to speak officially about their Reynolds American-related contributions.

Big stake for Big Tobacco

In 2021, the FDA announced plans to prevent “future generations of smokers” by banning menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, and other similar products. And recently, in April 2022, the FDA proposed a set of rules and product standards that would ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from ending up on the shelves.

“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” said Xavier Becerra, health and human services secretary.

Tobacco companies have not stood idly by. Reynolds American alone spent $2.56 million lobbying the federal government in 2021 and is set to spend $2.8 million on lobbying, according to federal congressional lobbying data compiled by the nonpartisan research organization OpenSecrets.

Cathy Callaway, senior director of prevention for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s national and local campaigns team, told Insider that the company’s focus on Washington, D.C. best exemplifies the hold of the organization over the federal government.

“DC’s numbers, to me, speak to the investments they’re making in Congress, probably around the FDA’s regulation of tobacco products and certainly the FDA’s recent proposed rule to end the sale or ban menthol and flavored cigars.”

Ashley Moody and Ron DeSantis

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference on April 19, 2021.

Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

There are also a lot of tobacco-related actions at the state level.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Insider that many of the states where Reynolds American contributes political money are those that have recently introduced or are discussing restrictions on tobacco products.

While Reynolds American and its parent company, British American Tobacco, have both pledged to reduce “the health impact of our business” and reduce combustible products, they are also fighting lawmakers trying to codify the measures. anti-tobacco and vaping, he said.

“Reynolds says he no longer opposes tobacco control measures because he also supports a smoke-free future, but his political donations tell a completely different story,” Myers said. “His donations are for people and places that in recent years have considered restrictions on menthol cigarettes.”

In late 2020, California lawmakers agreed to institute a ban on flavored tobacco products with Senate Bill 793. succeeded in getting the issue of flavored tobacco on the ballot box for the 2022 midterm elections. This delayed the implementation of the law from the California legislature.

In addition to donating to the coalition, Reynolds American’s political spending document reveals significant campaign contributions from individual lawmakers across California, donating $161,500 to candidates in 2021 alone, including more than two-thirds went to Republican candidates. In total, Reynolds American has donated 34 candidates in California in 2021. That’s 28%, or more than a quarter, of all seats in the state legislature.

Both Myers and Callaway told Insider that Reynolds American has always been a supporter of “pre-emption” tobacco laws, or has worked with state governments to pass legislation that makes it harder for local communities to implement. of their own tobacco control legislation.

Florida — Reynolds American’s second most popular target for political contributions in 2021, according to its own data — is an example of a state that passed legislation in 2021 preventing local communities from changing the minimum age for use. and possession of tobacco and to regulate the marketing and sale of the product.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis received $25,000 from Reynolds American in March 2021, just two months before signing him in May.

Then, seven months later, DeSantis received another $25,000 from the tobacco giant. The company also donated $50,000 to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s campaign in installments in late 2021 and early 2022.

Despite the company’s assurances that it is moving away from combustible tobacco products, Myers said the company’s political spending was just “business as usual.”

“They’ve always used donations to prevent meaningful smoke-free legislation from being passed, and it shows there’s been no decrease in that,” he said.

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