“Shame on Judy Chu,” says a flier that arrived in voters’ mailboxes this week, accusing the candidate for a state board that regulates cigarette sales of being a shill for Big Tobacco.
What the flier doesn’t say is that the group that mailed it received much of its funding from ... the tobacco industry.
Chu, a Democratic assemblywoman from Monterey Park, is a staunch foe of the industry and refuses to accept its campaign cash. Anti-smoking advocates said the companies’ role in financing the mailer was a cynical attempt to drive voters toward her opponent, whom cigarette companies support in Tuesday’s primary.
Chu’s foe, Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood), is one of the Legislature’s biggest beneficiaries of tobacco money.
The campaign piece was sent out by a group called the California Political Empowerment Committee, which since September has received at least $57,000 in contributions from tobacco companies, including the Kraft subsidiary of tobacco giant Altria; Lorillard; and UST.
The brochure reads like a public service announcement. Alongside a photo of three pre-teenage boys lighting up, it says Chu “accepted money from tobacco companies and then voted to reduce penalties on them for illegally selling cigarettes to minors.”
The statement is attributed to the American Lung Assn.
The association says it has never said such a thing and sent a letter Wednesday to the committee urging it “in the strongest terms possible to immediately issue a public retraction.”
The committee justifies the claim because Chu voted for a bill, written by Horton, to expand efforts to stop kids from smoking despite the association’s concerns that the law was not aggressive enough.
Chu and Horton are vying for a seat on the State Board of Equalization, which oversees $40 billion in state tax collections.
Horton has accepted more than $85,000 in contributions from Altria since 2000. Chu’s tobacco money has been limited to $1,000 from the California Distributors Assn. -- funds she said her campaign returned after learning that the group’s membership included tobacco firms.
In March, Chu received a certificate of recognition from the California Youth Advocacy Network for not taking tobacco-industry contributions.
Rickey Ivy, chairman of the group that mailed the ad, said his organization was merely trying to set the record straight on Chu after her campaign attacked Horton for accepting tobacco money and other special-interest cash. He said that the committee raised its money at a golf tournament and that its attack on tobacco interests in the Chu mailing shows it is not beholden to its donors.
“I don’t consider the organization as being bankrolled by anybody,” Ivy said.
Altria spokeswoman Dawn Schneider said the company contributed to the committee through its food division, which has business before the state unrelated to tobacco. She said the money was intended to support a golf tournament held by the committee.
Chu doesn’t buy it.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” she said. “This is an example of how corrupt Sacramento politics has become.... The tobacco industry is doing this on behalf of someone who takes tobacco money.”
Horton said the committee that mailed the ad is operating independently of his campaign and that he does not condone the attack on his opponent.
“I’m not doing any negative campaigning,” he said. “I think it is wrong to do that.”
Doug Heller, executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, said Horton’s “close relationship with tobacco companies makes that explanation hard to believe....
“If voters knew who paid for this, they would tear it up in heartbeat.”