Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Modesto, $40,500. Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, $25,300. That’s the amount of money they’ve taken in tobacco company donations.
On Wednesday, Gray, Perea and 11 other members of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee mauled a bill to regulate nicotine-injection devices known as e-cigarettes the same as tobacco.
By the time the attack—excuse us, the hearing—was over, the author, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, abandoned the corpse, unable to support what had been twisted into a pro-tobacco bill.
Health advocates, the California Medical Association, narcotics officers and others gamely argued for Senate Bill 140, understanding that junior high and high school kids are getting hooked on nicotine by the tobacco industry’s shrewd marketing of e-cigarettes. They were talking to walls.
No tobacco lobbyist showed up at the hearing. It wasn’t necessary. Tobacco companies did their work in advance by giving $179,000 to Democrats and Republicans on the Assembly panel. Perea took the most recent donation, $5,000, just a month ago.
Tobacco companies have given $186,800 to Democrats and Republicans on the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. Lawmakers responded.
A few, who haven’t taken direct donations from the industry, owe their seats in part to tobacco money. An independent campaign committee spent $119,000 last year to elect Democrat Mike Gipson to a Los Angeles-area district. Altria, the world’s largest tobacco company, which like other tobacco companies owns e-cigarette companies, gave $90,000 to that independent campaign committee.
Gray began the assault by insisting that Leno accept four amendments. Leno agreed to three, but the fourth was the killer. It would have blocked California from treating e-cigarettes as tobacco products, thereby undermining the point of the bill.
Perea made the motion to inflict the amendments on the bill. Gipson seconded it, as did Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, $16,100.
“Wouldn’t you think that at least it is a good step forward?” Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, $7,800 -- he later returned it -- asked, so sincerely urging Leno to take the hostile amendment. “No, it is a dangerous step forward,” Leno replied.
Assemblymen Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, Marc Levine, Marin County Democrat, and Roger Hernandez, a Democrat from east of Los Angeles, stood up for Leno’s bill. But then, they have taken no tobacco money. Cooper called the amended version “toothless,” and the committee’s attempt to shape it “disingenuous.”
Levine said that although the bill would die, Leno should continue his effort. When he ended his speech, Gray chastised Levine for not wearing a tie. Decorum is very important at such an august mugging.
At the end of the nearly two-hour hearing, no committee member summoned the courage to move the mangled version of SB 140 to a vote. Gray announced he would hold the bill in the committee. And thus tobacco got what it paid for, leaving no fingerprints.
Editor’s note: This post was updated July 10 to reflect that Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian returned a $7,800 tobacco company contribution.