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Senators Who Get Money From Big Tobacco Oppose FDA Regulation

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Big Tobacco is closely tied to the small group of lawmakers who opposed recent legislation allowing greater FDA regulation of tobacco products and advertising methods. And last week McClatchy Newspapers cited OpenSecrets data to document these extensive connections. Here are our own observations:

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), has received more money ($359,100) since 1989 than any lawmaker but one from tobacco companies, many of which are based in his Tar Heel State Burr spearheaded the effort to defeat the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act according to the McClatchy story. Despite Burr's opposition, however, the bill eventually passed the Senate 79-17 after receiving the House's support earlier this year. Capital Eye previewed that vote at the end of March.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the all-time leader in reaping the tobacco industry's contributions. Over the senator's career, he has received $419,000 from PACs and individuals associated with major tobacco companies. Reynolds alone gave the Kentucky Republican $18,750 during the 2008 election cycle, while the industry as a whole gave the senator $132,400 during the same period.

In addition to Burr and McConnell, 14 other Senate Republicans also voted against providing the FDA with more regulatory authority. They include: Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who has received $228,700 from the industry over time and Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who has collected $194,150. One Democrat, freshman Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, joined them in opposing the legislation. Hagan received $19,200 from Big Tobacco during her 2008 cycle campaign.

The GOP traditionally receives more money than Democrats from tobacco companies. In the 2008 election cycle, Republicans collected 62 percent of the industry's contributions. At that time, the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, received $119,650, more than any lawmaker but McConnell. That is nearly triple the amount the tobacco companies gave to then-candidate Barack Obama.

While the industry used to rank as one of the most generous campaign contributors, tobacco companies have decreased their donations to candidates since a string of devastating lawsuits in the '90s. In 1996, only 25 other industries donated more money to federal candidates than tobacco, which poured a total of $10.6 million into their coffers. Yet the $4.2 million tobacco companies spent in the 2008 cycle actually represented an increase from the past two election cycles. Big Tobacco companies have also scaled back their lobbying operations. In 1998, tobacco companies spent $67.2 million lobbying Capitol Hill and the White House. Ten years later, the amount was $28 million. In the 1st Quarter of 2009, the industry shelled out $7 million to elite lobbying firms such as Womble Carlyle and Alston & Bird, among others.

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