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America’s second-largest tobacco company burned through over $16 million in political donations in 2020, a show of force that previews the difficulty the Biden Administration might face as it seeks to ban menthol cigarettes.
Reynolds American made more than 700 donations totalling $16,229,475 to candidates, committees, ballot initiatives, and PACs from both sides of the aisle and at all levels of government, according to a new corporate governance document posted on Reynolds American’s website and reviewed by Insider.
The contributions came either from Reynolds American directly or through its corporate political action committee.
In a show of the company’s force, Reynolds American, the manufacturer of Camel, Pall Mall, and Newport — the nation’s most popular menthol cigarette — last year poured $10 million into the “California Coalition for Fairness.”
The blandly named group is backing an effort to repeal a 2020 California law that banned flavored cigarettes. The law is currently suspended until 2022 pending a referendum.
Reynolds American also gave $25,000 to a committee controlled by a Democratic California assemblyman, Adam Gray, who introduced a vaping bill that anti-smoking advocates say was more lenient on tobacco companies than an outright ban.
Other notable contributions from Reynolds American include $600,000 to the Republican-backing Congressional Leadership Fund, a $50,000 payment to the Republican mayor’s group Community Leaders of America, and $225,000 to GOPAC, which is aimed at “educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders.”
The company also provided heavy financial support to the Republican National Convention last year, donating $350,000 to the Charlotte, North Carolina, host committee formed before COVID-19 forced the convention to scale down and relocate to Washington, DC.
Reynolds American also tossed a quarter of a million dollars to the 2020 Jacksonville Host Committee, formed to support an alternative Republican convention site in Florida before President Donald Trump abruptly called it off.
Donations to Democrats or Democrat-affiliated groups include a $10,000 to the Jobs & Opportunities super PAC, $30,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, and $55,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
The Democratic Party of Illinois also benefited from Reynolds’ largesse, getting $12,000 in 2020.
Reynolds American also distributed smaller amounts in the three- to four-figure range to people vying for races as local as aldermen to positions as powerful as governor — a demonstration of their desire to win allies across the spectrum of American politics.
Representatives for Reynolds American did not return requests for comment.
“Products manufactured by the operating companies of Reynolds American Inc. are sold, taxed and regulated in all 50 U.S. states,” Reynolds American states in a corporate document outlining its political contribution philosophy. “The RAI companies’ engagement in the political, legislative and regulatory processes is important to their businesses because matters of direct relevance to RAI and its operating companies are routinely determined through these processes.”
Reynolds American has made political donations for years as the federal government wages a long war to prevent smoking-related illnesses and deaths.
Cigarette smoking leads to nearly half a million deaths in the US each year, and more than 16 million people in the United States live with conditions caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Under Biden, the Food and Drug Administration wants to ban menthol cigarettes, which they say initiates young smokers and harms vulnerable communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also criticized the tobacco industry for having “aggressively marketed menthol products to young people and African Americans, especially in urban communities.” African Americans have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups, according to a US surgeon general report from the late 1990s.
“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said April 29.
Angela Wang contributed to this report.
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