Quid pro tobacco

e-cigarettes are booming. States are trying to determine how this new product should be taxed, especially as it relates to tobacco products.

The NC GOP had this debate last year, and to no one's surprise, it was all about pay to play.

Months after state lawmakers agreed to apply a favorable tax rate to their e-cigarette products, Reynolds American Inc, the parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., gave $50,000 to a nonprofit group affiliated with state House Republicans.

Under the bill, e-cigarettes were to be taxed at 5 cents per milliliter of the nicotine-containing liquid used in the so-called vapor devices. Opponents of the measure noted that cigarettes are taxed at 45 cents per pack, so the state would lose money as smokers switch to e-cigarettes.
But backers of the tax argued, in part, that the favorable tax treatment was necessary to help land a new e-cigarette manufacturing plant in the state.

The bill passed. Miraculously, a new e-cigarette manufacturing plant came to our state.

Days after the House vote, R.J. Reynolds announced it would open a new manufacturing facility for its Vuse vapor product in Tobaccoville. The bill passed the state Senate and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory the same month.

And then Reynolds deposited the $50,000 check.

Pay to play.



To be fair

it's just a non-profit, donating to a political cause. There's no proof that Reynolds was paying off its drones.

Corporations like Reynolds are not able to give to political candidates, and $50,000 far exceeds the contribution limits that can go to an individual running for office. Even with a paper trail, such transactions do not prove a quid pro quo, and it's impossible to say who else might have contributed to the nonprofit.

No proof whatsoever. Plenty of evidence, though.

But after Reynolds wrote its check to House Legislative Partners, the organization transferred $71,000 to a newly created nonprofit called the NCHLP Education Fund. That group produced an ad that aired on several cable channels in the Charlotte market on behalf of Rep. Rob Bryan, R-Mecklenburg. Bryan did vote for the tax bill but said last fall he didn't know about the NCHLP Education Fund ad until after it aired.

Rep. Rob Bryan also didn't know about the sun coming up every day until after it was pointed out to him.

"I will have a priority on building relationships with the minority caucus. I want to put substance behind those campaign speeches." -- Thom Tillis, Nov. 5, 2014