Despite being declared as racketeers by a federal judge, big tobacco may spend over $32 million dollars in this election cycle to influence the 2008 elections. For the first time in American history, those convicted of violating the nation's organized crime laws will have a huge role in deciding our next government.
In Oregon, Republican Senator Gordon Smith -- who has a somewhat maverick voting record and has expressed opposition to the Bush Iraq War -- is being targeted for defeat by mailings from Philip Morris Tobacco which attack Smith for a vote in favor of a federal tax increase on cigarettes to help fund at least a portion of the health care problems that cigarettes create for children with secondhand smoke injuries. Philip Morris is looking to elect a senator whose voting record reflects their corporate interests.
Also in Oregon, the recently formed Reynolds American Tobacco is funding an attack ad campaign against a new statewide tax on cigarettes to help fund children's health care.
The fact that corporations that have been declared as racketeers by a federal judge can spend millions to influence our next government should be a serious concern to all persons. Should other organized crime figures such as drug pushers or gang members also form political action committees and decide who runs our government. Should organized crime also support candidates running for judge as well?
Recently the Hillary Clinton campaign has been tarred by political donations from fugitive Norman Hsu, but these only run into the thousands of dollars, not millions of dollars like the convicted civil racketeers of big tobacco. But does our government need any involvement by organized crime or other major criminal figures?
The Norman Hsu problem is only the tip of the iceberg for increased involvement in government by those convicted of either serious civil or criminal issues. So far campaign finance regulations don't seem to put much limitation on donations from crime figures. It is mainly public pressure that dictates whether such donations are a problem for a campaign or not.
Nothing that Norman Hsu did in the way of political donations was illegal, including his "bundling" of campaign cash by giving some through a postal carrier of modest means for example. Some public interest organizations such as Tobacco Free Kids have urged political candidates not to return any donations from tobacco companies that were declared as racketeers by any court, but so far none have that I know of. The role of convicted civil and criminal court individuals and corporations in influencing our government is only likely to increase in 2008.
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