Tobacco Dole

What do Bob Dole’s telemarketer, his chief California strategist, and one of his national co-chairs have in common? Big Tobacco.

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Texas Attorney General Dan Morales broadcast a clear message last fall: If tobacco companies were making millions in Texas, then they could help contribute to the billions in Medicaid costs spent in Texas for smoking-related illnesses. Several other attorneys general already had filed lawsuits against the tobacco industry to recover such health care costs. But before Morales could follow their lead, half a dozen tobacco industry lobbyists visited him and delivered a private poll from the political consulting firm Public Opinion Strategies.

The poll, commissioned in January by the Covington & Burling law firm on behalf of the four largest tobacco firms and the industry’s advocacy group, The Tobacco Institute, claimed the people of Texas wouldn’t support Morales if he filed the suit. The proof? Two-thirds of the more than 800 Texans polled had said they wouldn’t favor the proposed lawsuit.

But then Morales took a closer look at the poll. He discovered it was actually a “push-poll,” designed not to gauge public opinion but sway it. The poll’s telemarketing script began with basic, unobtrusive political questions–then quickly zeroed in on Morales. “Elected officials are held to high standards in public life,” the script read. “Here are some reasons people are giving to vote against Dan Morales.”

Among the reasons: Morales was “pro-affirmative action”; he “supports gun control”; and his 1994 campaign contributed money to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. (Morales’ staffers had purchased two tickets to a dinner thrown by a local chapter of the Nation of Islam.) Those polled were also told that Morales’ proposed lawsuit could cost thousands of jobs, prevent the attorney general from fighting crime, and reward only a few wealthy personal injury lawyers. Finally–the spin complete–those polled were asked what they thought of the suit. It’s hardly surprising that they overwhelmingly opposed it.

Despite its bias, the poll served its purpose: to deliver a not-so-veiled threat that, on a moment’s notice, the tobacco companies could make many more such calls throughout Texas and, through strategies such as push-polling, mobilize an untold number of voters against the suit–and against Morales.

Still, Morales proceeded with the suit.

And the man who runs the polling firm, William McInturff, went back to his day job–as chief pollster for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate