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.