Dennis L Chinn

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Dennis L Chinn, PhD was a consulting economics in Belleview, Washington, for most of the time he worked for the tobacco industry. He was also one of the few members of the Cash for Comments Economists Network who was not a full-time academic. This scam was run for the Tobacco Institute by Professor Robert D. Tollison and lobbyist James Savarese with the help of Tollison's wife Anna and the staff from the Center for Study of Public Choice which was located on the grounds of George Mason University.

The Cash for Comment Economists Network eventually split up and most of the members transferred over to work for the tobacco industry under the cover of the Independent Institute with William F Shughart taking a leading role. Savarese and Tollison then appeared to have formalised their partnership, with Tollison and his wife becoming part of James Savarese & Associates.

 

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

 

Documents & Timeline


1985 June/1986 March-July The Cash for Comments Economists Network was commissioned by the Tobacco Institute to write economic opinion pieces opposing excise taxes on cigarettes in mid-year-1985. This propaganda requirment resurfaced as a major project for the economist in the peak of the Tobacco Industry's PR campaign against the Packwood tax plan (although the threat was obviously still a possibility until the end of 1986r).

The Tobacco institute (much later) put together a package of commissioned economics reports (see front section of document), followed by about thirty op-eds and composite pieces which were generated by the Tollison/Savarese Cash for Comments Economists Network in this 1985-86 time frame. It illustrates the propaganda value of this network -- and shows what it can accomplish in a very short time for just a few thousand dollars in academic bribes.

These op-eds attacking the Packwood tax plan were all published in local newspaper across the USA. (Copies needed to be sent in for payment to be made.) A few are from July 1985 and the rest appeared in local newspapers during March-July 1986. These spontaneous independent expressions of expert opinion all miraculously come from Professors of Economics attached to the Center for Study of Public Choice ...

Joseph M Jadlow, Oklahoma State Uni. (He had two op-eds in different papers.);   William C Mitchell Uni of Oregon, Eugene;   Lee G Anderson, Uni of Delaware;   John S Howe Uni of Kansas, Lawrence;   D. Allen Dalton, Boise State University;   Thomas F Pogue, Uni of Iowa, Iowa City (He had two.);   Scott Atkinson, Uni of Wyoming. (He had two in different papers.);   S. Charles Maurice, Texas A&M Uni;   Todd Sandler, Uni of Wyoming;   Michael A Crew, Rutgers Uni, Newark;   Robert B Ekelund Jr., Auburn Uni (He had two.) ;   Ann Harper-Fender, Gettysburg College;   Lee Alston, Williams College;   Paul L Menchik, Michigan State Uni;   Henry N Butler, Texas A&M Uni;   Burton A Abrams, Uni of Delaware;   Ryan C Amacher, Clemson Uni (He had two.);   Dominick T Armentano, Uni of Hartford;   Fred McChesney, Emory Uni;   and a think-tanker David Wilhelm (Citizens for Tax Justice);

Also short extract pieces and letters-to-the-editor from A James Heins, Uni of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana;   William J Hunter, Marquette Uni, Milwaukee;   Dennis E Logue, Dartmouth College;   William F Shughart, George Mason Uni;   Harold Hochman, Baruch College, City Uni of New York;

Also uncredited overviews in the Newport Daily News, the Times-Review in Texas, Herald PA, etc. which expresses the encapsulated wisdom of most of the above with the addition of Thomas Borcherding (Claremont Graduate School, Calif);   K. Celeste Gaspari, Uni of Vermont, Birmingham;   David N Laband, Uni of Maryland;   Dean Tipps (Service Employees Intl. Union);   Allen M Parkman, Uni of New Mexico, Alburquerque, NM;   Richard K Vedder, Ohio Uni, Athens;   Roger L Faith, Arizona State Uni, Tempe;   Lee Alston, Williams College Mass;   and William J Hunter, Marquette Uni, Wisc.; (Some sections were published in multiple papers). [3]
This was a massive amount of propaganda coverage for a payment of less than $1000 each to these Professors at that time.

 

1986 Apr 4: As a come-on, James Savarese has written to all his network economists to "alert them to some new research opportunities that may be available in the coming weeks". The Tobacco Institute would ...

... like to examine proposals for research that test, in a quantitative way, a number propositions on the relevant cost considerations that apply to the smoking issue. It is not interested in more generalizd formulations of private/social cost distinctions, but rather in testing a specific application of this economic orthodoxy.

He wanted 1-2 page descriptions and a cost approximation. And he enclosed an OTA report which was "representative of the kind of research being put forth by anti-tobacco activists" -- together with some "rebuttals developed by Bob Tollison and Richard Wagner". [4]

 

1987 May 28 Paul A Jacobson, the Tobacco Institute's Region V Supervisor, has been evaluating the value of the economists that Savarese and Tollison had recruited to cover his area of the country. He had interviewed the TI's State lobbyists to see what their impressions were as to the value of various economists. He says about this economist:

Dr . Dennis L . Chinn, PhD

Consulting Economist, Bellevue, WA

Dr. Chinn has provided extensive writing, consulting, and expert testimony on behalf of TI during past legislative sessions. Counsel Fritz feels that Dr. Chinn is an effective consultant and his services will definitely be utilized again in future tax fights . [5]


If there are any lingering doubts that these economist knew exactly what they were doing, it should be dispelled by a Tobacco Institute memo of June 3 1987. [6]. This shows that they knew that this work was unethical - that it needed to be done surreptitiously - and that they were working for the Tobacco Institute ... but in a way that was deniable since no formal contracts existed.

Apparently Prof. McMahon has " … reviewed and agreed to "author" an economic impact study on the effects of a smoking bill …"
The writer puts "author" in quotes
... leaving no doubt that the professor was being paid to put his name to a tobacco industry paper.

The same file has an letter from Professor K. Celeste Gaspari, an economist from the University of Vermont. She tells us that:
    • She had been contacted in Sep 1985 by the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason Uni (Tollison's think-tank)
    • She was offered an annual retainer of $1000 + paid work for the Tobacco Institute.
    • In 1986 she had been paid the retainer and had written a paper for them.
    • It was now March '87 and her retainer hadn't arrived. She'd complained but still hadn't received the retainer.
    • She has now been asked to do more work, but is on strike until her $1000 annual retainer is paid.

I am very disappointed with the Tobacco Institute's policies on making good on verbal agreements.
It is true I never had a written agreement with the Institute -- we only spoke over the phone. I did, however naively, trust that a verbal agreement with a prestigious institute was as good as a formal contract. I was evidently mistaken.
I am not interested in working with your group at this time if this is the way you do business.

Sincerely K. Celeste Gaspari


References