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Grover Norquist is a familiar player in Washington debates, renowned for convincing nearly every Republican in Congress to sign a pledge to not raise taxes. But Norquist’s main job is not as a principled advocate for his brand of limited government but functioning as a paid lobbyist for whatever corporate interests are ready to write him a check. Norquist is a prominent pundit for Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, and now, he’s also batting for Big Oil.
Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), is at the forefront of the latest fight against renewable energy in the United States.
Conservative front groups and fossil fuel interests are attacking renewable energy standards in a coordinated assault to protect profits generated from fossil fuel-based electricity. Twenty-nine states have renewable energy standards and twenty-two of those have become fierce battlegrounds.
This coordinated attack on clean energy bears resemblance to the effort by Big Tobacco to prevent public health laws from impacting the profitability of tobacco companies. And it turns out, a lot of people working to dismantle renewable energy laws are deeply connected to Big Tobacco. Some, like Grover Norquist, even worked with Big Tobacco on their misinformation campaigns and are now turning their lobbying power to attack state clean energy policies.
The attacks on the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) originated primarily from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose energy task force is comprised of fossil fuel companies and front groups members like ATR. In late February, several ALEC groups including ATR attempted to convince Kansas legislators to weaken their renewable energy law, which would require renewable energy to make up at least 20% of their energy portfolio.Norquist himself testified to the Kansas legislature to roll-back the RPS.
Americans for Tax Reform has received $525,000 from the American Petroleum Institute between 2008 and 2011 and $60,000 from foundations connected to Koch Industries between 2003 and 2011.
Fighting against renewable energy in the states isn’t Norquist’s only project working to protect fossil fuel interests. ATR is part of a Tea-Party “last stand” seeking to derail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, Norquist also made a public statement that there was “no conceivable way” he could support a carbon tax aimed at slowing global warming and pollution.
Norquist has a track record of defending industries engaged in massive denial of scientific knowledge. The dirty energy industries that fund ATR pretend that the climate change science is inconclusive despite broad scientific consensus. But that approach is not new – it was refined through millions of dollars in lobbying, public relations and front groups by the tobacco industry, which denied the harms caused by smoking.
Americans for Tax Reform, run under Norquist, has been a longtime ally of the U.S. tobacco industry and a major player in pro-tobacco tax policies. ATR’s history with Big Tobacco was pulled from hundreds of documents that live in the Tobacco Archives and documented by SourceWatch.
1990s: Big Tobacco Loses Public Opinion, Calls on Third Party Support
In the early 1990s, the government started increasing tobacco regulation via taxes and bans to compensate for the health costs of smoking. Philip Morris President Roy Marden wrote an internal memo calling attention to the need to “regain the upper hand” on public opinion of tobacco. In 1992, RJ Reynolds documented a campaign plan to “move public opinion in the right direction” – in order to weaken tobacco regulation.
One aspect of the plan was third-party coalition work, with ATR listed as a likely coalition partner. The reason: “Credible, non-tobacco voice for hearings and for generating information on issue to media, op-eds, letters, etc.” The draft plan also mentions Norquist specifically, noting, “Tim Hyde to work with Grover Norquist for possible by-line piece.”
The following year, ATR’s pro-tobacco campaign began. With the help of focus groups from eight different cities, ATR launched an advertisement in 152 newspapers targeting 51 Members of Congress. Their success was documented by Philip Morris, and used for even further campaigning.
ATR continued to campaign against tobacco taxes, so much that they were described in an internal Philip Morris review as a “staunch ally of PM for a number of years in many tax battles.”
Along with coalition support came monetary support. Philip Morris contributed $30,000 to the ATR Foundation in 1994, according to internal documents. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company contributed $100,000 to ATR two years later and ATR received additional money from RJR in 1997 to continue PR support of lobbying activities, one month before Norquist went on the road to speak out against cigarette tax increases.
1999: Litigation against Big Tobacco Begins, Norquist and ATR continue support
President Bill Clinton announced that “the Justice Department [was] preparing a litigation plan to take the tobacco companies to court, and with the funds [they] recover, to strengthen Medicare” in his 1999 State of the Union Address. Less than one month after Clinton’s speech, Norquist had published a media release and letters to radio show hosts complaining about the litigation – without disclosing his own financial ties to tobacco. Weeks later, Norquist wrote a letter to Kirk Blalock of Philip Morris requesting $200,000 in continued support.
Norquist and ATR spent the next few years continuing to campaign against the litigation efforts, writing letters to warn Congressmen of dire consequences.
ATR continued to receive monetary support from Philip Morris, but Norquist campaigned for even more money from a coalition of tobacco groups. He sent a proposal to Lorillard and Philip Morris titled “No taxation through litigation – stopping the federal Medicare suit.” The proposal was seeking $582,672.
What came of the proposal was undocumented, but ATR has continued to lobby on behalf of the tobacco industry. They organized an anti-tobacco tax rally in 2010, using an email list paid for by Philip Morris. They list several appeals to oppose bills that would raise tobacco taxes on their website, including a 2011 Louisiana bill and an Arkansas House Bill. In early 2012 they campaigned against California’s Proposition 29, another tobacco tax increase. Sacramento Bee editor Dan Morain asked Patrick Gleason, a Norquist aide, whether Americans for Tax Reform still accepted tobacco money, to no response.
A 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler concluded that the tobacco industry has “lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as ‘replacement’ smokers, about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.”
The lies and deception continue with climate change denial and attacks against renewable energy standards on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. It seems Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform will campaign for anything, for the right price.