The Nicotine Network

How Big Tobacco and Republican congressional leaders help each other gain power.

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Just four blocks from the headquarters of RJR Nabisco in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a small company called the Ramhurst Corp., which has been playing an instrumental role in the beleaguered tobacco behemoth’s political fortunes. Its key mission: to quash the biggest political and financial challenges the tobacco industry has ever faced–from federal efforts to regulate tobacco at the Food and Drug Administration to state attempts to impose excise taxes and smoking restrictions.

Launched in 1993 with the support of RJR, Ramhurst–which coordinates many of its activities closely with RJR–combines “grassroots” lobbying with inside-the-Beltway influence-peddling. “Grassroots” coalitions have become a vital tool for tobacco’s survival because of the industry’s increasingly negative public image. By forming coalitions with business groups, conservative activist organizations, and other industries, tobacco companies like RJR obtain useful cover and, in effect, go from being a “black hat” to a “white hat” in the political world.

Ramhurst occupies a special niche among grassroots organizers for tobacco, however: Its operatives have also forged ties with some of the most powerful GOP leaders in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Arizona Rep. John Shadegg, Newt Gingrich’s hand-picked choice to succeed him as director of the powerful political action committee GOPAC.

Most significantly, a key Ramhurst operative has been tapped to head House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s leadership PAC, considered by many the pre-eminent fundraising vehicle in the GOP, after Newt Gingrich’s money machine.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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