TOBACCO LITIGATION: Reno Calls on Congress for Funding
Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday warned Congress that the Justice Department "will have no choice" but to drop the government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry unless Congress provides some of the $23 million needed to finance the litigation, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Without that money we will not be able to proceed. And I think it is imperative that we move forward to protect the American people and to give them their day in court," Reno said. After states had reached the "historic" $246 billion settlement with tobacco companies in 1998, the Justice Department last year brought a "massive lawsuit" against tobacco companies, accusing them of making an "addictive product" and "fraudulently" marketing it. Last week a federal judge threw out two parts of the government's lawsuit, which sought to collect "billions of dollars" to reimburse the government for treating sick smokers. The judge, however, will allow the government to argue a "scaled-down claim based on racketeering charges against the industry" (Lichtblau, Los Angeles Times, 10/6).
Reno Suggests Options
Yesterday, Reno suggested that Senate Appropriations Committee member Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) proposal to seek full funding of the litigation in the Justice Department's budget is a "possible remedy" (Johnson, USA Today, 10/6). Last year, Congress blocked direct funding for the litigation, leaving the Justice Department to get money from other agencies, including the Veterans Administration and the Defense Department. However, Republicans this year are "push[ing]" provisions that would outlaw that option. Reno also called on Congress to approve direct line-item funding of the tobacco litigation and remove pending provisions that would require the Justice Department to receive congressional authorization for specific spending measures, arguing that the process "could be used to allow politics to interfere" with the lawsuit (Los Angeles Times, 10/6). The majority of the $23 million Reno requested would pay for continued management of a database that analyzes "millions of documents" on the tobacco industry and would be used to prepare for a trial that could begin in 2003 (USA Today, 10/6).
For the past year, Reno and the Justice Department have been battling GOP lawmakers who have "moved to de-fund the tobacco litigation." Antitobacco activists are pleased with Reno's efforts. "The attorney general is putting Congress on notice that she needs this money," William Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said. He added, "If Congress intervenes at this stage (by cutting off funds), it would be a political act of special protection for the tobacco industry." But according to an unnamed Republican aide, GOP lawmakers are "more intent than ever to keep a tight rein" on Reno's funding, especially on the tobacco issue. "Congress has been given the power of the purse, and we guard that zealously," the aide said (Lichtblau, Los Angeles Times, 10/6). For his part, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) has said that if elected president, he would halt the lawsuit (American Health Line, 8/7).