George W. Bush: Calling for Philip Morris
Scott McClellan, a spokesman for Bush's presidential campaign, wouldn't comment when asked whether the Governor had any concerns about Rove's dual role as Philip Morris operative and adviser to Bush, referring back to Rove's own statements on the subject. In his deposition, Rove denied ever having used his connections to the Governor's mansion to advance the tobacco company's agenda. But he admitted using his influence to steer Bush toward making tort reform part of his agenda, saying he was involved in "identification of trial lawyers and the utility of frivolous and junk lawsuits as being a political issue."
Rove ended his employment with Philip Morris, he said, because "it was just getting to be awkward to be juggling" his political work and his tobacco work. But he admitted that he talks to Dillard, the Philip Morris lobbyist, several times a year, sometimes in connection with the company's contributions to the Texas Republican Party. And in Texas, critics of Rove are quick to say that they think he quietly maintains his ties to the company. "There's no evidence to suggest that Karl Rove has kicked his habit of protecting the interests of Philip Morris," says Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a campaign finance watchdog group in Austin that opposes tort reform.
Tied to Rove and to Philip Morris are a pair of brothers, Jim and Charles Francis--both close personal friends of Rove's, according to Rove's testimony--who also play a central role in this drama. The tale of the Francis brothers well illustrates Philip Morris's strategy of buying influence in Texas. Charles Francis, a Washington, DC, public relations executive, played a principal role in the mid-nineties in the State Affairs Company, a PR firm in Arlington, Virginia. That company made headlines a few years ago when it was revealed that it had quietly taken money from Philip Morris to establish a research group called Contributions Watch. The chief product of the ersatz research group was a study lambasting the political influence of trial lawyers in federal and state politics and tracking lawyers' campaign contributions.
In 1996 the Philip Morris-backed State Affairs Company sent Charles Francis to Texas as part of Philip Morris's life-and-death struggle against a Texas antitobacco lawsuit--one of the first legal challenges to tobacco, and one that eventually developed into a multistate litigation campaign that cost the industry billions. Francis hired Ken Hoagland, a political and public relations consultant, to be State Affairs' state director. Soon afterward, the firm began working with Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the third Texas organization that supports tort reform. According to the Dallas Morning News, TLR hired State Affairs to "discredit public interest organizations by portraying them as big-monied special interests." Part of the aim was to present Public Citizen, Citizen Action, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Audubon Society as influenced by wealthy trial attorneys.
Around the same time, as part of a multipronged campaign to build support for the beleaguered tobacco industry, State Affairs began putting together the Texas branch of yet another Philip Morris-backed front group, the National Smokers Alliance, which claims to have 3 million members nationwide. NSA has battled state and local antismoking ordinances and tobacco taxes from its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Hoagland, in a deposition in connection with the antitobacco lawsuit filed by the State of Texas, said, "I was employed to find board members for this National Smokers Alliance here in Texas."
One key person approached by the State Affairs Company was Charles Francis's brother, Jim, a Dallas financier and longtime Texas Republican political operative. Jim Francis has known Governor Bush since 1970, when they became friends while Francis was serving as a scheduler for then-Representative George H.W. Bush's unsuccessful Senate campaign. During the next two decades, Francis worked for the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Senator Phil Gramm, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Texas Republican Governor Bill Clements, also serving as the executive director of the Republican Party of Dallas County. When W. flirted with running for governor in 1990, Francis was a key confidant, helping to guide Bush to a decision to wait until 1994. And when that campaign began taking shape in 1993, on a fishing trip at Bush's vacation home at Rainbo Lake in East Texas, Francis and Rove helped Bush outline his election strategy. Francis became general chairman of Bush's campaign. Today Francis is "helping to oversee the Pioneers," Bush's high-dollar donors, according to Scott McClellan.
In mid-1996 Charles Francis traveled to Texas with David McCloud, another key player with State Affairs, to recruit Jim Francis to the NSA's Texas board of advisers. According to State Affairs documents obtained by The Nation, Jim Francis met at least twice with McCloud--and with his brother, Charles, says Hoagland--to discuss NSA. In the end, however, apparently conscious of the political taint associated with tobacco and its NSA, Jim Francis reluctantly declined to formally associate himself with the organization. Soon afterward, Bush appointed Jim Francis to head the Texas Department of Public Safety, and when the Governor began his presidential campaign, Francis assumed a prominent role, along with Rove, in the inner circle.