New York Times story: U.S. Chamber has become a “front group” for Big Tobacco

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Another big New York Times article on how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is shilling around the world on behalf of Big Tobacco.

In the past several years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which used to be a fairly nonpolitical organization, but it has been transformed, mostly by its executive director Thomas Donohue, into a highly politicized lobbying organization.

And lately, much of the Chamber’s lobbying efforts have been directed toward not only defending Big Tobacco but aggressively attacking countries attempting to reign in tobacco marketing and packaging. The New York Times story uses the example of the Irish prime minister who visited the U.S. Chamber offices to lobby for investments, business opportunities in Ireland, and instead Donohue lobbied him to drop new Irish laws requiring plain packaging on tobacco products.

From the New York Times article:

Since taking over in 1997, Mr. Donohue has transformed the chamber into a powerful lobbying force, an evolution most starkly epitomized by its aggressive advocacy for tobacco. While the organization represents a variety of industries, its strategy has been a boon for cigarette makers, which have relied heavily on the chamber to push their agenda at home and abroad.

Few allies of Big Tobacco are as enduring as Mr. Donohue, who has personally lobbied the speaker of the House, the United States trade representative and the Irish prime minister on the industry’s behalf. A review of industry records, which came to light during government litigation, highlights the longevity of his ties.

In the 1990s, after taking over the chamber, Mr. Donohue fought the Justice Department’s tobacco litigation, personally lobbied against antismoking legislation in the Senate and promised “a unique role in determining the future direction of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce” to a big cigarette maker in a letter.

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U.S. Chamber Executive Director Tom Donohue — New York Times photo

The US. Chamber’s lobbying efforts around the world on behalf of Big Tobacco has been talked about a lot in the past year. I’ve written about it and there’s been a number of major articles about it, including CVS Pharmacy quitting the U.S. Chamber over its tobacco lobbying. John Oliver has likewise taken on Big Tobacco’s battles against smaller countries.

This is specifically what’s changed just in the past year or two. While the U.S. Chamber has been for some time now lobbying for Big Tobacco in the U.S., it’s been putting a ton of energy into lobbying for Big Tobacco around the world lately. According to the Times article, it has gotten to the point that officials with the World Health Organization are literally calling the U.S. Chamber a “front group” for the tobacco industry.

According to the Times, a few weeks after Donohue took over at the U.S. Chamber in 1997, he received a letter from a Philip Morris executive.  According the to the New York Times:

Mr. Donohue’s ambition, he wrote in a reply to the Philip Morris executive, was “to build the biggest gorilla in this town.” He scrapped the chamber’s in-house cable network and magazine, which were centerpieces of his predecessor.

“The chamber has become the antithesis of its former self,” a Philip Morris memo reported in 1999, while an executive said in an internal email, the “chamber is doing good work.”

There’s even been a  revolving door between Philip Morris and the U.S. Chamber. A former Philip Morris executive is now one of the top executives in the U.S. Chamber … and better yet, a former U.S. Chamber employee is now a spokeswoman for Philip Morris International.

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