Two stories that demonstrate the priorities of the Bush administration and the Republicans in the Senate:
After eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers abruptly upset a landmark civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry yesterday by asking for less than 8 percent of the expected penalty.
As he concluded closing arguments in the six-year-old lawsuit, Justice Department lawyer Stephen D. Brody shocked tobacco company representatives and anti-tobacco activists by announcing that the government will not seek the $130 billion that a government expert had testified was necessary to fund smoking-cessation programs. Instead, Brody said, the Justice Department will ask tobacco companies to pay $10 billion over five years to help millions of Americans quit smoking.
“We were very surprised,” said Dan Webb, lawyer for Altria Group’s Philip Morris USA and the coordinating attorney in the case. “They’ve gone down from $130 billion to $10 billion with absolutely no explanation. It’s clear the government hasn’t thought through what it’s doing.”
The Justice Department offered little explanation for the figure. Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. and members of the trial team declined to answer questions as the court session ended. In 2001, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft tried to settle or shelve the government’s racketeering case against the industry before a public outcry forced its revival.
“It feels like a political decision to take into consideration the tobacco companies’ financial interest rather than health interests of 45 million addicted smokers,” said William V. Corr, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The government proved its case, but the levels of funding are a shadow of the cessation treatment program that the government’s own expert witness recommended.” [Washington Post, Page A1]
The Senate Finance Committee issued a report yesterday raising questions about a range of financial practices at the Arlington-based Nature Conservancy and recommending regulatory changes that would affect many of the nation’s nonprofit organizations.
The report, the result of a two-year investigation into the world’s largest environmental organization, questions whether the charity’s actions at times may have been “inconsistent” with the policy underlying federal tax laws. The committee raises concerns about the size of tax breaks claimed by the Conservancy’s supporters, about the group’s shortcomings in monitoring development restrictions on some land under its supervision, and about private “side deals” with Conservancy “insiders.” [Washington Post, Page A3]
So let me see if I have this right: the Justice Department cuts their demand for judgement against Big Tobacco, a conglomarate of criminal conspirators who have lied and obfuscated their culpability in killing millions of people for over fifty years, by 92%. But those folks over at The Nature Conservancy, a group dedicated to preserving endangered land and species and who might have pushed the limits of the tax code, well, bust their ass!
Is it just a coincidence that Big Tobacco has been one of the biggest donors to the Republicans while The Nature Conservancy attracts the attention of people who actually care about preserving the environment and is therefore seen by some as a bastion for Democrats? Hmmm…
[Hat tip to Rachel Maddow.]