Ten years ago, with a bill providing for new tobacco regulation and a cigarette tax pending in the Senate, tobacco companies spent nearly $60 million to fend it off. Lobbying firms benefited handsomely, with multimillion-dollar payments going to Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, then home to a pair of former Senate majority leaders, Democrat George J. Mitchell of Maine (1980-95), and Republican Bob Dole of Kansas (1969-96); Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, whose name partner Haley Barbour went on to become the current GOP governor of Mississippi; and Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, whose most prominent lobbyist was yet another former Senate majority leader, Tennessee Republican Howard H. Baker Jr. (1967-85).
But as Congress this month cleared legislation to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, K Street’s haul, over the preceding 15 months, turned out to be less than half of what tobacco clients spent to defeat the 1998 legislation.
The decline is due mainly to corporate mergers and industry disunity. Altria Group Inc., owner of cigarette maker Philip Morris, broke ranks with some other tobacco giants and backed this year’s legislation, hoping it would solidify Altria’s position as the U.S. market leader. And U.S. Tobacco Inc., a smokeless tobacco company that worked hard to fight the 1998 bill, is now part of the Altria corporate empire.