On the same day tobacco executives were called to Congress to discuss the big settlement proposal, Philip Morris poured $100,000 into the coffers of Republicans who control the House.
Philip Morris' Feb. 24 donation was the largest the National Republican Congressional Committee took in during the first three months of 1998, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission."They have been supporters of ours for many, many, many years," committee spokeswoman Mary Craw-ford noted.
The Republican committee wound up raising $227,750 in "soft money" from the tobacco industry during the first three months of 1998, as legislation embodying the proposed settlement began moving through the Congress.
The industry fashioned the outlines of a settlement with state attorneys general last year, but has recently retreated from it.
"Huge contributions from tobacco companies at the same time Congress is considering tobacco regulation shows quite clearly what the tobacco industry is trying to do: use money to protect their special interests," said Ann McBride, president of Common Cause, a private group that advocates changing the way congressional campaigns are financed.
Overall, the committee, which helps to elect House Republicans, raised $8.7 million in regular contributions between Jan. 1 and March 31, plus another $4 million in soft money, which is not subject to federal contribution limits. Senate Republicans and House and Senate Democrats are to report their latest contributions next week.
Soft money is used for party-building activities such as get-out-the-vote drives, and increasingly for issue-oriented advertisements that do not urge a vote for or against a particular candidate. Direct contributions to candidates are subject to federal contribution limits.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation April 1 that would require the tobacco companies to pay $506 billion over 25 years and would raise the price of cigarettes by $1.10 a pack by 2003.