Joe A Bell

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Professor Joe Bell, who taught economics at Southwest Missouri State University, was an early recruit into the Tobacco Institute's Cash for Comments Economists Network. Bell shared the territory of Missouri with Thomas Wyrick (same university) and both economists wrote pro-cigarette industry articles whichh were planted on the Springfield New Leader and other local newspapers. 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 boosting the range of economics propaganda (against cigarette excise taxes, etc) and also in running the Labor Management Committee (which handled bribery to union officials, and other related activities).

The Cash-for-Comments Economists Network was run by Savarese along with his TI-designated partner, Professor Robert D Tollison, who provided the services of the staff and facilities of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University (they also prove cut-out and organisational services). They developed the network to maintain 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 within the period 1985-1995, and costs ran to $3 million/year at a time when professor's salaries were in the $30-40,000/year 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, where public relations experts would make them suitable for lay readers. Here they were also 'improved' and refined in ways that suited the tobacco industry; then sent to the Institute's outside lawyers for vetting. A modified article returned to the professor, and he/she would then send it to a designated State newspaper with a note claiming that it was his 'independent expert opinion'. The professors received a base amount for writing from the TI, and extra bonuses for successfully planting the article on certain newspapers.

Published papers would also be copied by the professor and sent to his Congressional Representative and Senator (for a further bonus). 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.

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