When Donald Trump took the oath of office as the President of the United States, he vowed to fulfill his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Nearly 10 months into his presidency, Trump has failed to deliver on most of the reforms he unveiled to tighten the rules for Washington lobbying.
In fact, tobacco companies have strengthened their grip on Washington politics, ramping up lobbying efforts, and securing significant regulatory wins in the White House.
According to The Guardian, the Trump administration took donations from tobacco companies to organize the inaugural ceremony on January 20. Reynolds American and Altria Group, America’s largest cigarette manufacturers, donated $1.5 million to help Trump celebrate his inauguration. The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been fiercely pro-tobacco in recent years, gave $25,000. Since January 20, the influence of tobacco companies has grown manifold in Washington.
It is alleged Trump allowed the tobacco industry to gain influence in his administration as he had investments in tobacco companies before he became president. Trump’s financial disclosures show he earned up to $2.1 million in the past three years from tobacco holdings in diversified portfolios. Trump claims he sold his stocks, but has refused to provide any evidence.
Vice-President Mike Pence too has deep ties with tobacco companies. In 2001, Pence argued that “smoking doesn’t kill”. Two months later, Pence met with tobacco lobbyists who steered donations his way. The Guardian adds:
“Over his career, Pence received $39,000 in donations from RJ Reynolds, a Reynolds American subsidiary, and more than $60,000 from the tobacco company-aligned National Association of Convenience Stores, both among his top donors. Pence owned up to $250,000 in stock in a family business, a chain of 210 convenience stores doing business as Tobacco Road.”
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who is playing a key role in Trump’s quest to repeal Obamacare, is a tobacco advocate. McConnell once threatened to derail negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in support of tobacco. McConnell is from Kentucky, one of the top tobacco-growing states in the country. In January, his former chief of staff was hired by Altria.
In 2009, Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, voted against a 62-cent cigarette tax hike that would have helped pay for public health insurance for poor children. He called the law a blow to “hard-working Americans” meant “to feed [Obama’s] reckless agenda”.
Until 2012, Price owned at least $37,000 in shares in Philip Morris International and Altria. During his career as a state legislator and Georgia congressman, he received more than $37,000 in donations from tobacco companies and related political action committees. In March, Price’s former deputy chief of staff was hired as a lobbyist for Reynolds.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, an advocate for anti-tobacco legislation, states:
“As in so many areas, the promise to drain the swamp has been an extraordinary hypocrisy. Tobacco industry influence in Washington is pervasive, in many different ways. They have an active presence on the Hill, they meet frequently with administrative agencies, on hugely significant issues such as regulation of e-cigarettes, tobacco packaging and warnings.”