WHEN GOV. ARNE Carlson last week sent two emissaries to the U.S. Senate to pitch Minnesota's support for a negotiated settlement with the tobacco industry, it looked an awful lot like payback time to anti-tobacco activists and clean-government advocates. Remember those eight all-expenses-paid days the guv and his missus spent soaking up the Australian sun in June 1996 in the company of four Phillip Morris execs? Arne's critics do, and they're betting that Carlson's support for the proposed $368 billion settlement--which Phillip Morris wants--has something to do with the junket.
"It certainly struck me as a nice return on their investment of a nice little vacation for the governor and his wife," complains Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville). "A little favor for the tobacco industry can mean billions." Marty recently filed a complaint with the former Ethical Practices Board, recently renamed the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, alleging that the governor's spendy trip violated a state law that bars public officials from accepting gifts. "You could never prove a quid pro quo," says Marty, "but that's why the law says no gifts, period."
At the time, Carlson argued that the trip didn't violate the gift ban because it was paid for by two private nonprofit foundations that had no business before the state. Marty, however, notes that both "think-tanks" are headed by Phillip Morris Senior VP Andrew Whist, who Marty says has conceded to reporters that one of the groups, the New York Society for International Affairs, is "a chair in my apartment." The state board has ruled that public officials can't accept gifts from nonprofits with close ties to lobbyists, either, Marty notes in his complaint. The board's next meeting is scheduled for the end of the month.
Before sending his delegation to D.C., Arne didn't bother to tip Attorney General Skip Humphrey, who has garnered national press for his of staunch opposition to the proposed settlement. Arguing that the settlement concedes too much to big tobacco, Humphrey plans to go ahead with a lawsuit against major cigarette manufacturers that's scheduled to go to trial January 19. No action is expected from Congress on the settlement until sometime next year.
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