Lee J Alston

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Lee Alson, was an economics professor at Williams College, Williamstown, MA (later at the University of Colorado at Boulder). He was recruited to help the tobacco industry survive and thrive by Robert Tollison an economist at George Mason University and James Savarese, a lobbyist with Ogilvy and Mather in the early 1990s (later with his own lobbying company).

Overall, this pair recruited (in total) between 120 and 130 professors of economics (usually Libertarian - Public Choice zealots at State Universities) - with some staying for the duration, and others washing temporarily through this lobbying scam. Most of the recruits were members of Tollison's Public Choice Society which had the public-choice libertarian economics guru James Buchanan at its head. Anna Tollison (wife) also appears to have handled the Society and some network operations, while Savarese had Leslie Dawson (wife of Sam Dawson from United Steel Worker's Assoc/union) and Kelleigh Varnum (aka Kelleigh Varnum-Roffman) as his key assistants.

The recruited professors would be instructed on occasions to write a 1200-1400 word opinion article (known as 'op-eds') for their local newspaper. The subject to be discussed or the claim to be challenged, and any important statistical information and possibly a broad outline, would be sent to them along with the names of (usually two) selected newspapers. They would also be given the name of two local Federal or State politicians to lobby by sending a copy of their article, along with a personal note.

They were paid on the basis of work performed -- at rates which varied between $600 and $3,000 for each article. This was good money for a second-rate State university professor of economics at the time. See longer explanations: Economists' network and the full-blown Cash for Comments Economists Network.

 

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

1973 BA at Indiana University


1975 MA and PhD (1978) at the University of Washington.


1978-89 He was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Economics at Williams College


1984 Jul The Tobacco Institute's 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.

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. [3]

1985 Jan 31 Hurst Marshall has distributed this Tobacco Institute list of economists from the cash-for-comments network. It has been organise by State, and includes the names of Congressmen they wish to influence.

Attached for your information are the names of economists who have been identified by PR to assist TI on the federal cigarette excise tax issue. These people are also available to testify at the state level. If you feel that this type of witness can be of assistance to you on state cigarette tax issues, please contact Fred Panzer for details and arrangements. Please notify your lobbyists as to the availability of these people. At the same time, you may wish to ask them for their ideas or suggestions for other economists within their states.

This economist will be detailed to make the contact with Congressmen by sending him/them the published op-ed.

MASSACHUSETTS (Rep. Donnelly)
  •   Professor Lee Alston William College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. [4]


1985 June 21 James Savarese submits his bill to the Tobacco Institute for both the op-eds written by his network, but also for their attendance at society meetings where they also promote the tobacco industry's position.

  • Op Ed Project - $1000 each 'professional fees'
    for Abrams, Alston, Armentano, Harper-Fender, T Anderson, Denzau, Bohanon, Jadlow, Wagner and Menchik.
  • Southwest Social Science Meeting -- Houston
    • Keith Watson ($1,000),
    • RB Ekelund Jr ($2,003)
    • Joseph Jadlow ($2,605),
    • Richard Wagner ($2,716)
    • Robert D Tollison ($5,000)
    • Henry N Butler ($2,070)
  • Eastern Economic Assoc, Meeting -- Pittsburgh
    • George E Hoffer ($1,431)
    • Gary M Anderson ($2,450)
    • Robert D Tollison ($6,375)
    • Bill Shurghart III ($2,529)
    • Michael D Pratt ($1,288)
    • John H Bowman ($1,000) [5]



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). [6]
This was a massive amount of propaganda coverage for a payment of less than $1000 each to these Professors at that time.


1987 Jun 3 Memo on "Economic Witness Evaluation" from Dennis Dyer of the New England division of Tobacco Institute to his superior, George Minshew giving his impressions of the mercenary lobbyists/academics.

>I> The Public Relations Division has identified six economists in New England who appear willing to work with us on our tobacco-related issues. In April another economist was identified and subsequently contacted -- Professor Simon Rottenberg, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. During the past three years, I have had an opportunity to meet and work with the designated economic witnesses in Maine (Professor Robert McMahon) and New Hampshire (Professor Dennis Logue).

  • Professor McMahon reviewed and agreed to "author" [his quotes] an economic impact study on the effects of a public smoking bill in Maine. He presented testimony at two worksessions and conducted a limited number of one-on-one briefings. The bill was defeated.
  • Professor Logue testified on a broad workplace bill. In conjunction with this testimony, he submitted an economic impact study prepared by Jim Savarese. The bill was enacted.
[This is an unequivocal statement that these academics allowed their names to be attached as 'authors' to propaganda and pseudo-research prepared by the tobacco industry in order to deceive legislators.]

On February 24 I contacted each of the identified economists in the region by letter (Attachment B). In each instance I provided the economist with three examples of Tl-generated economic impact studies and asked for their initial impressions and recommendations.

[He was, in effect, asking them whether they would put their names to this pseudo-research]

Three of the seven economists responded (Attachments C-l through C-3). With the exception of Professor Celeste Gaspari from Vermont, the other two seem to continue their interest. Only Professor Logue chose to give even the briefest of responses to my inquiry.

Follow-up conversations with all of the identified economists indicate a general willingness to be involved but a lack of real understanding as to what our requirements might be.

This was a variation on the tobacco industry's standard technique for recruiting scientists and academics. Before they were formally commissioned, they must first prove that they were aligned to, and aware of the industry requirements by turning in written commentary which shows that they support the industry's pro-tobacco position.

Dyer has a plan for more effectively use of these economists, nationwide. He also includes the full multi-page resume of Professor Dominick T Armento (see table above) who has since proved to be one of their most successful recruits.

Various attachments to this document

  • On Page 44 there is a copy of Dyer's letter to Armentano. The Professor had been previously contacted by Jim Savarese and this was the follow-up letter arranging a formal review of some literature (to ascertain his opinions re smoking) and to arrange a meeting for recruitment discussion. This letter has been prominently labeled: "**SAMPLE LETTER TO ECONOMIC WITNESSES**"
  • Attachment 1. Page 15 is a pro-industry article Dominick Armentano has written in the Hartford Courant, "Cigarette taxes flunk on fairness"
  • Attachment 2. Page 16 is the resume of Robert C McMahon, who is an Associate Professor of Economics at the USM.
  • Attachment 3. Page 19 is the resume of Lee J Alston, Assisant Professor of Economics at Williams College and a private consultant to an unnamed law firm. [He was at the time in Australia on leave - see reply page 45]
  • Attachment 4. Page 24 is the resume of Dennis E Logue of the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. He is at Georgetown University at this time, and he replies (Page 46) favourably reviewing the literature he has been sent, and suggesting lines of defense for the industry.
  • Attachment 5. Page 32 is the resume of Arthur C Mead, Assistant Professor at the University of Rhode Island. He didn't reply to the TI request that he review their literature and comment on the economic case.
  • Attachment 6. Page 37 is the resume of K Celeste Gaspari, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Vermont. She replies (Page 48) saying she is still waiting for the annual $1000 retainer she was promised, and is disappointed with the Tobacco Institute. She won't work with them if this is the way they do business.

    I will reiterate my disappointment with the Tobacco Institute. 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.
    In answer to your letter, I am not interested in working with your group at this time if this is the way you do business.

  • Attachment 7. Page 40 is the resume of William F Shughart II, ex Special Assistant to the Director, Bureau of Economics at the FTC, and now an Associate Professor at Clemson University. [7]
[Shughart apparently didn't reply on paper -- but he was a long-term lackey who seems to have assumed control of the network economists when they split from Tollison and Savarese and migrated the network to the Independent Institute.

1988 Mar 31 James Savarese's list of potential reviewers for the tobacco-funded book by Tollison & Wagner "Smoking and the State". The economists in every state were given a targeted newspaper to send a review of the book for publication. [8] There was also a sample piece by William Mitchell so they didn't need to read the book


1988 - 2002, Professor of Economics, Political Science and the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois


1996 - 1999 Alston was the Director of the Center for International Business Education and Research at the University of Illinois


2002 Joined University of Colorado at Boulder

References