29 Jul 2010
Last week, the left-leaning Huffington Post published a hit piece entitled “Congressional Cigar Association is Front for Lobbyists.” By sensationally linking lobbyists and tobacco, the article has prompted denials by Congressmen and plenty of hand-wringing by commentators, particularly those who are predisposed to disagree with Republicans (like the one who sponsored the association) and dislike tobacco. I’ve even seen many of my fellow cigar smokers recently refer to the article as exposing something shady.
But what exactly is wrong with the Congressional Cigar Association (CCA)? So far as I can tell, absolutely nothing.
While I’ve never attended a CCA event, I’ve been invited to them, and have spoken with people who have attended. Far from clandestine or “shady,” the events are described to me as fun and educational. They simply involve Congressional staffers enjoying cigars with a beverage or two. Tobacco, after all, is a legal product, and my experience in DC suggests that a sure way to attract low-level Hill staff and public policy types is with discount drinks.
At CCA events, typically someone from the cigar industry talks about the unique process of making handmade cigars, and maybe gives staffers some insight into the burdens placed on family businesses by cigar taxes and regulations. It’s factual information that they don’t hear from the well-funded and well-connected anti-smoking lobby.
The Huffington Post article makes a big deal of the convoluted House ethics rules (and believe me, as someone who has read parts of them, they are definitely complex and convoluted). But ultimately even that line of inquiry comes up empty, as it seems the CCA has worked with the House Ethics office since its inception, and no violations have been found.
What was conspicuously absent from the Huffington Post article, and the commentary that surrounded it, was any discussion of the fact that communicating with Congress (better known as lobbying) is a constitutionally-protected act. After all, the First Amendment specifically states that citizens have the “right to petition government for redress of grievances.”
Maybe the Huffington Post author’s real agenda is that he doesn’t think cigar smokers and cigar makers should be able to exercise these rights. But fortunately the Constitution doesn’t let the Huffington Post decide who can or cannot petition the government, no matter how they may wish they had that power.
And that seems to be the real story here. Anti-tobacco lobbyists have been circling Capitol Hill for years, pushing legislation to cripple the rights of cigar smokers. And now that the cigar industry has dared to come up to Capitol Hill to defend their product and show congressional staffers the victims of their legislation, the anti-tobacco forces want to shut them up and shut them down.
photo credit: wikipedia