Bruce L Benson
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Professor Bruce Benson, who taught economics at Florida State University, was recruited to joint the Tobacco Institute's Cash-for-Comments Economists' network. He was a minor member of the network, and he seems to have become mixed up in this academic rip-off through his membership in the Public Choice Society — a group of neo-con laissez-faire academics who came to believe financial dealings trumped normal morals and ethics.
The operations of this network were kept secret, and the deals were all channeled through Ogilvy &Mather (PR), and later James Savarese & Associates; Jim Savarese was a lobbyist with a basic economics background, and he ran a number of scams for the tobacco industry, all essentially dealing with economics propaganda (against cigarette excise taxes, etc) and workplace smoking bans, via the tobacco industry's Labor Management Committee (which handled bribery to union officials, and other related activities)
The Cash-for-Comments Economists' Network was run by Savarese in partnership with Professor Robert D Tollison who used the staff and facilities of the Center for Study of Public Choice (CSPC) at George Mason University to prove cut-out and organisation services. They developed a network having at least one academic economist on tap in virtually every US state. (There was a regular turn-over.) In all, about 130 university professors were involved in the period 1985-1995, and costs ran to $3 million/year at a time when professor's salaries were in the $30-40,000 pa range. An active network member at a State university could almost double his normal salary.
The main focus of the network group was to write commissioned op-ed articles on a subject determined by the Tobacco Institute. The draft article would then pass back through the network to TI staff, who were essentially public relations experts. Here they were 'improved' and refined; then sent to the Institute's outside lawyers for vetting. Modified articles then returned to the professor, who would then send them to a designated State newspaper as if they were his 'independent expert opinion'. The professors received a base amount for writing and bonuses for successfully planting the article on the newspaper.
Published papers would also be copied by the professor and sent to his local Federal Representative and Senator (for a further bonus). Network members could also be called upon to provide witness services and promote the cigarette companies' political/ecomic line at local ordinance or State legislative hearings. An active professor of economics at a State University could almost double his salary with these activities and with some further appearances, for instance, speaking on the importance of cigarettes in economic terms at major economic conferences, etc.
Documents & Timeline
The principle organisers included the:
- Tobacco Institute staff — Peter G Sparber, Susan Stuntz, Carol Hyrcaj, Fred Panzer, Jeff Ross and Cal George.
- Economist organizers — Robert D Tollison, William F Shughart, Dwight R Lee, Richard E Wagner, Gary M Anderson, Robert B Ekelund, Henry N Butler —
- Organizers from the CSPC — Anna Tollison (wife of Robert), Elizabeth Masaitis, Carol Robert
- Organizers from Savarese & Assoc. — Jim Savarese, Leslie Dalton, Kelleigh Varnum
- Organisers from Ogilvy & Mather— Richard Marcus, Marcia Silverman, Patricia Milita ('Trish')
At a later date the operations and administration was hidden behind the veil of the Independent Institute.
- Organisers from Independent Institute -- Robert Higgs (others unknown)