Burton A Weisbrod

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Burton A Weisbrod was a University of Wisconsin economist who in 1984-5 period was temporarily persuaded to join the Tobacco Institute's Cash for Comments Economists Network. He appears not to have actually done anything for them through Robert Tollison's network, however his name was retained on their lists and he appears to have done some private work for the tobacco industry.

Burton Weisbrod was also the director the Center for Urban Affairs & Policy Research which was renamed the Institute for Policy Research) See his current C/V

Note that the CV fails to list the Tobacco Institute in a very long list of consultancies, however.

 

HOW THE NETWORK WORKED

The Cash-for-Comments Economists' Network was run by Savarese through a partnership with Professor Robert D Tollison who used the staff and facilities of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University to prove cut-out and organisation services. They developed and maintained a network of Economics Professors with at least one on tap in virtually every US state. As one Professor transferred or dropped out (there was a regular turn-over) a new one would be recruited in that State. 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 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. Some, but not all, received a small (eg.$1000) annual retainer.[2]]

  Published papers would also be copied by the professor and sent to his local Federal Representative and Senator (for a further bonus). Sometimes there were special commissions, but generally the work was writing op-eds and LTE's where they were paid just on results (varied from about $700 to $3000 over the years). Network members could also be called upon to provide witness services and promote the cigarette companies' political/economic 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.
      Cash for Comments Economists Network   &   Robert Tollison   &   James Savarese   &   Network Document Index

 

Document & Timeline

1961: Published "Economics of Public Health", by Burton A. Weisbrod, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961.


1968: Burton Weisbrod, "Income Redistribution Effects and Benefit-Cost Analysis," in S.B. Chase (ed.), Problems in Public Expenditure Analysis (Washington: Brooking, 1968) This was cited by Tollison & Wagner in their report on "Consumer Protection, Public Policy and Cost-Benefit Analysis."


1980: Robert Tollison and Richard Wagner in their draft article for the Tobacco Institute "Consumer Protection, Public Policy and Cost-Benefit Analysis" quote from Weisbrod's study for Brooking Institution. At this time he appears to be seen as a peer-review expert in the economic effects of cigarette smoking and on the burden this imposes on medical care expenditures [see archive index at this time]. [3]


1980 Aug:Robert E Leu of the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Basel Switzerland (Temporarily with the Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin, Madison) in his paper "Modifying Risk-taking Behavior Through Public Policy: The Case of Cigarette Smoking" acknowledges the help of Burton Weisbrod in the preparation of the paper.

This paper examines the effectivity of using taxation to reduce the incidence of smoking. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds have typed draft copies of this paper, but there is no sign that they have commissioned it. It accepts the dangers of smoking. [4]



1984 Apr 30: This 109- page DRAFT Tobacco Institute Cigarette Excise Tax Plan' was being developed to covertly battle against a tax proposal being considered by the Reagan Administration; they were facing a budget crisis. The tobacco industry suspected that the Administration (under pressure to create tax cuts for the wealthy) was about to extend the life of a temporary excise tax which had been imposed on cigarettes (16¢ per pack).

They had an urgent requirement for some 'independent' experts to lobby on their behalf at the State level. Their lobbying budget specified the average cost per State worth lobbying:

  • One public finance economist for 10 days @ $1,000, [Total $ 10,000] including meetings with coalition members and/or the Governor's staff; research and preparation; and testimony.
  • One economist for a union workshop on the tax issue, [Total $5,000] including 3 or 4 training sessions over the course of a convention.
  • Six economists @ $5,000 and one senior economist @ $20,000 for a tax symposium, including publishing of the proceedings at $3,000. [Total $53,000] The senior economist would play an oversight/organizational role and would be responsible for editing the proceedings. Such a symposium would be staged for regional or national impact.
  • One economist provided to a public employee union to do original research on the need for adequate services to be funded by broad-based taxes; this would include the final report and testimony. [Total $ 25,000]

Also included in this bundle was draft copy and designs for a couple of different booklets aimed at different States, and others aimed at labor/union and racial groups. It also identifies the Congress Committeemen and state Assemblymen who should be targetted as most likely to be influenced, and it had an appendix which lists economists who can be enlisted to help.

Potential Economic Consultants:
Following is a list of economists in key states who might assist us as consultants. We have begun contacting them to ensure their willingness and expertise. We are asking each about past experience; work with similar issues; previous work with the industry; published articles or research; and speaking availability. As discussed in the body of this program, our intent is to have a group of individuals who we can call upon regularly to testify, conduct special research projects, and discuss their research and/or views on excise taxes with the media.

Tollison is the most influential and prestigious on this list; he was hired to consult on federal tax issues, to publish books promoting the cigarette industry's position, and to oversee efforts of the other cash-for-comments economists throughout the country. See last page

They are already designating key states for the economists to influence through op-eds and politicians, and allocating a recruited academic to perform their lobbying services. Yoram Barzel is the only name on the above list who appears to have had second thoughts. He resisted the Institute's overtures entirely -- although they quoted his papers extensively.

1984 Jul The following month the Tobacco Institute circulated a formal document to the cigarette company members:

Cigarette Excise Tax Plan.
The plan augments our basic lobbying efforts by relying on groups outside the industry -- some not regularly associated with the industry -- to argue against excise taxes for us.

It is an ambitious program, based on the notion that many of the most effective protests against tobacco taxes will come from groups philosophically distant from The Institute. Many such groups agree with us on the excise issue, even though they disagree with us on other matters.

At the federal level, supporting Congressional members from the tobacco states is essential to our lobbyists. The tobacco members consistently vote as a unified group -- something that is rarely seen in Congress today. They are our lobbyists' most important resource.

The program recommends that economic and other consultants assist us in developing, "packaging," and presenting our anti-excise arguments in legislative testimony or meetings with coalition members. Resources:
Economic consultants with different areas of expertise will conduct research and act as spokespersons for The Institute and organizations supported by The Institute. Specific activities with economists are discussed throughout the tactics.

Tactics:

  • Stimulate reputable public finance economists at key state universities to determine the validity of state revenue forecasts, perhaps on behalf of state business organizations and present arguments against excise taxes in various forums; e.g., meetings with potential coalition members or budget officials.
  • Encourage economists to make the case against regressive taxation in meetings with potential coalition members and legislators.
  • Retain public finance economists affiliated with non-profit organizations to research the subject and use their findings in forums such as:
    • Private meetings with state legislators or staff ;
    • formal testimony before government bodies ;
    • targeted media appearances;
    • speeches before business, civic, labor, and other groups ;
    • tax symposia in key states where the proceedings could be published for use in other states ; and
    • articles which raise the visibility of key arguments in the business, academic, and popular press.

Strategies:

  • Presenting specific members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees with arguments prepared by economists with whom they share some common interest; e.g college affiliation, service on the same commission.
  • Gaining the support of Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), the most influential labor/liberal tax reform group in the country, in opposition to excise taxes.
  • Relying on the AFL-CIO -- via The Bakery, Confectionery, and Tobacco Workers Union -- to ensure that the labor/liberal tax package that emerges in the next session of Congress does not include tobacco.

Appendix: A list of economists in key states who may be willing to act as industry and third-party spokespersons on the tax issue. Following is a list of economists in key states who might assist us as experts receiving honoraria. We have begun contacting them to ensure their willingness and expertise. We are asking each about past experience; work with similar issues; previous work with the industry; published articles or research; and availability.

Cash-for-Comment Economists
State Economists   and their institutions
California Thomas Borcherding, Claremont College
Connecticut William McEachern, University of Washington
Florida Richard Wagner, Florida State University
Georgia Fred McChesney, Emory University Law School
Illinois James Heins, University of Illinois
Mass. Harlan Platt, Northeastern University
Minnesota Thomas Stimson, University of Minnesota (St.P)
New York Harold Hochman, City University of New York
Ohio David Klingaman, Ohio University
Penn. Mark Pauly, University of Pennsylvania
Texas Charles Maurice, Texas A&M University
Wash.DC. Robert D Tollison, George Mason University.
Wisconsin Burton Weisbord, University of Wisconsin
"Our intent is to have a group of individuals whom we can call upon as needed to testify, conduct special research and discuss their research projects and/or views on excise taxes with budget officials, potential coalition members, legislators and the media."[5]
[The only change here is that Yoram Barzel from the University of Washington, had dropped out. (There was always a regular turnover)
This was the core Cash for Comments Economists' Network. Over the years they recruited over 160 professors of economics.]

1985: A later paper by Robert E Leu (now with Thomas Schaub) "Does Smoking Increase Medical Care Expenditure? also acknowledges Weisbrod's help at the University of Wisconsin. This study has all the hallmarks of a cigarette-inspired analysis -- specifically the use of the "death benefits" argument (but without explicitly stating it)

The impact of smoking on medical care expenditure is analyzed, challenging the widespread belief that smoking imposes a large cost burden on health services systems. The results imply that lifetime expenditure is higher for nonsmokers than for smokers because smokers' higher annual utilization rates are overcompensated for by nonsmokers' higher life expectancy.

Population simulation, taking into account the effects of past smokinp on present-population size and composition, suggests that 1976 expenditure would have been the same if no male born since 1876 had ever smoked. The male population would have been larger, particularly at older ages, increasing medical care expenditure, but this increase would have been offset bv lower annual medical care utilization rates.

Thus the results imply that smoking does not increase medical care expenditure and, therefore, reducing smoking is unlikely to decrease it.[6]

Both of these authors had found favor with the Tobacco Institute by 1984-85 and were being funded by the Swiss subsidiary of Philip Morris, known as the FTR. [7] [8]


1985 March 29: The Monthly Report of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) to the Tobacco Institute shows that the economists did not necessarily write their own columns (at least in 1985). The report says:

Legion article: O&M provided revised version of the article for client approval. Ryan C Amacher, PhD, from Clemson University will sign the piece.

Amacher was a Cash for Comments Economists Network member.
They also says further down the page:

Op-ed Articles:
      O&M provided an update on this project. We are collecting original copies of the published articles to print in a collection.
Economic news service:
      O&M provided draft copies of three "tax quotes" columns and three editorials. We are writing two additional sets of materials and obtaining economists' photographs for final production.
Preparing for excise hearings in Congress:
      O&M will begin preparing C Mather Lindsay for testimony and will identify spokespersons at AFL-CIO and CTJ.[9]

Cotton Mather Lindsay was another member of the economists network.
CTJ = Citizens for Tax Justice, was an O&M-run think-tank that the tobacco industry partly financed]

The April Billings of O&M also include the news that the PR company had:

  • Arranged for economic consultant, Dwight Lee, to testify against Pennsylvania legislation to restrict smoking in public places.
  • Drafted and revised an article on tax reform and excises for submission to American Legion Magazine -- Ryan C Amacher, Ph.D., from Clemson University signed the piece.
  • Continued to prepare op-ed articles on tax reform and work with area economists to place in newspapers in home districts of members of House Ways & Means and Senate Finance Committees. Prepared weekly update on this project's status. (To date, 14 articles have been published; others are either pending with editors or still being revised for submission.)
  • Drafted three Q&A columns featuring our economic consultants and three editorials for "economic news service" mailing to local media nationwide. Also worked with designers to develop format for the service. We are drafting two more columns and editorials and collecting economist's photos for the final layouts. [10]
[This refers to a "matte service" where the copy is written and typeset, often complete with a photo of the economist who supposedly wrote it. Then high-quality "matte copies" are distributed to dozens of small give-away and local newspapers. They will then insert the TI propaganda into their pages in a form that is ready for printing. It cuts the costs of newspaper production, makes local rags look like serious newspapers, and fools their readers into believing they are getting real information. The Tobacco Institute distributed numerous 'economists columns' via matte.]

1989 Mar 17-19: The Annual Meeting of the Public Choice Society together with the Economic Science Association. These are Hayek-oriented neo-con economists of the kind which gave us the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-9. The speakers list mentions many active members of the economists network: -- some of whom spoke more than once. (William Hunter in particular.) It is clear that this society was a profitable recruiting ground for Tollison and Savarese.

The large group of speakers connected with Tollison's Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University completely dominated the conference session on Public Health.

This document also contains a list of the Public Choice Society's participants, many of whom were also members of the economist's network.

[Burton Weisbrod's participation in this conference was in the "Public Goods and the Private Sector" session.
      He is not associated with the "The Political Economy of Public Health" session which was run by Robert Tollison and the cabal of cash-for-comments economist were in the appropriately-named "El Toro"< room at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Orlando, Florida.]

2000After this Weisbrod's name disappears from the Cash-for-comments network lists.