Richard O Zerbe

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


Richard O Zerbe (also listed as Richard D Zerbe in the tobacco documents) was a minor cash-for-comments economist working for the tobacco industry while also lecturing at the State University of Washington. He dropped out of the network not so long after his recruitment. He is most interesting since he was clearly against smoking himself: but he overcame this prejudice to reap the financial rewards.
Don't confuse him with Robert L Zerbe the Executive Director of Clinical Investigations & Regulatory Affairs for Eli Lilly and Company. and there is also a 'Zerbe Political Consulting' [Brad Zerbe] based in Sacramento and Los Angeles. They ran the fundraising for the Governor Pete Wilson Campaign Committee in 1993.

Professor Richard O Zerbe became recruited into a clandestine network of academic economists who secretly worked for the tobacco industry through the Tobacco Institute. The network was set up in November 1982 by James Savarese (working through his own company and Ogilvy & Mather PR) with later expansion nationwide through Professor Robert Tollison of George Mason University. It operated under Savarese and Tollison until early 1999, when the remnants were handed over to the Independent Institute to run
Tollison and Savarese acted as contractors and cut-outs, using the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University ( GMU), to provide the adminstration staff. They recruited ultra-libertarian economics professors at the major state universities through the Public Choice Society and various regional economics societies.The problem is not that these scientists were ultra-libertarians, and that many of them were proto-Tea-Party disciples of Ayn Rand, Frederick Hayek and/or Ludwig von Mises. Nor was it necessarily made worse by the fact that the industry they helped prosper made a product that caused the premature death of about four million people globally each year. The problem is that these academics

  • exploited their trusted position as teachers at trusted universities to promote dubious corporate view-points contrary to the public good.
  • they hid their corporate links from the university administration and staff, and from the public which ultimately paid their salary.
  • they exploited for their own financial benefit the public trust invested in universities in general, and these institutional reputations for trustworthy research.
  • they allowed the tobacco industry to preview, edit and alter the reports they wrote, which made them into industry propaganda.
  • they wrote op-ed articles which were planted on their local newspaper -- deceiving both the editors and the readers,
  • they maintained the claim of being 'independent academic/scientists' when dealing with politicians after being coached in what to say by tobacco lawyers. In short, they became secret tobacco industry lobbyists -- selling their comments and their reputations for cash.

Over a hundred professors of economics at major American universities were successfully recruited by Tollison and Savarese into these cash-for-comments network, and many of them remained in service to the tobacco industry for many years. Others only served for a short time, and then dropped out voluntarily ... or were found to be unreliable or unsatisfactory.
They were not paid retainers or salaries, but were erratically commissioned to perform specified functions (usually for $1000 to $3000 per project) when the tobacco industry came under attack. Some earned much more -- often in the $20-40,000 range -- for producing 'independent research' which was customised to produce the desired results.
Payments were never made directly from the tobacco industry to the economists. Commissions were all carefully laundered through Savarese's company or Tollison's GMU operations -- and so the economist (wrongly) assumed this would provide deniability if ever challenged over selling out their academic credibility to the merchants of death. They didn't bank on the courts releasing 7 million tobacco industry documents to the public archives -- with files which documented their surreptitious dealings.


Documents & Timeline

1979: The Resume of Richard Tollison shows that he has contributed to Research in Law and Economics journal which is edited by Richard Zerbe.

"Toward a Theory of Government Advertising" (with K. Clarkson), in Richard Zerbe (ed.), Research in Law and Economics (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1979), [2]


1981: Joined Evans School of Public Affairs at University of Washington as an Associate Professor. See his 2001 CV. He is listed here in 2001 as

  • Daniel J. Evans Distinguished Professor,
  • Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs
  • Adjunct Professor, School of Law
  • Director, Center for Benefit-Cost Analysis [3]
1989 Dec /E Richard O Zerbe must have been recruited to the cash-for-comments economists network in late 1989. The network had been operating for seven years at this time. However, there is no record of his recruitment, or of the early commissioning of the op-ed article on excise-taxes -- refered to by Carol Hrycaj of the Tobacco Institute. See below.

1990 May: This is a list of the newspapers designated to certain economists on the network. They are to attempt to plant an op-ed article opposing "Excise Taxes" on this local newspapers.

WASHINGTON
Richard D. Zerbe, Univ. of Washington

He has been allocated the Seattle Post Intelligencer as his propaganda target. [4]


1990 June: /E Excise Tax Letter-Writing Fact Sheet. This is a list of points that the Tobacco Institute wanted the economists to include in their op-ed articles.

  • Excise taxes are regressive
  • Excise taxes are fundamentally inequitable
  • Excise taxes are an unfair burden on minorities
  • Government data demonstrates the unfairness of excise taxes.
  • Excise taxes are arbitrary
  • Excise taxes are hidden taxes
  • Excise taxes are an unfair burden on businesses
  • Excise taxes are bad economic policy
  • Excise taxes are historically controversial.

This was followed by

  • pages of data so that the economists got their facts right,
  • a series of quotes that could be incorporated into the article.
  • pages of State-by-State data including the number of jobs that the Tobacco Institute estimated would be lost by higher cigarette excises
  • lost revenues for each State, due, it was claimed, to cross-state bootlegging and smuggling.
  • a list of Congressmen to be contacted in every region.
  • Tollison's C/V [Note: Presumably in case they want to quote him] [5]

1990 Aug 13: Carol Hrycaj, the network supervisor at the Tobacco Institute, has sent her boss Martin Gleason a SAD [State Activities Division] media request for help in Washington state. They need to counter both anti-smoking publicity by the Department of Health and the plans of one insurance company to offer lower premiums to non-smokers.

Robert Tollison and Richard Wagner have also written a book for the tobacco industry which the Institute is promoting by paying them to conduct media tours of various US states under the control of PR company Flieshman-Hillard. Other network economists are also promoting Tollison, Wagner and the book.

The last Washington state Smoking and the State media tour was conducted in December 1989 and covered Seattle/Tacoma (Dick Wagner). While there is a possibility that it could be pitched in the market again, timing (to a certain extent) may be determined by the authors' academic commitments.

Tollison and Wagner presently are working on the book revision. The release and promotion of the update (Spring 1991) may be an alternative to activity in September.
2. Recent use of consulting economists for tax op-eds may make a "home-grown" effort difficult. (Richard Zerbe of the University of Washington, a participant in the recent anti-excise op-ed campaign, has submitted an article to the Seattle Post Intelligencer). However, we could explore further to see if additional op-eds are possible.

It may not be realistic to assume that consulting economists Tollison, Wagner and Lee could successfully place op-eds in Washington newspapers. In the alternative, we could request that they (or other economists Savarese might suggest) write letters to the editors of papers covering the Department of Health and anti-tobacco insurance plan stories. [6]

1991 Jan: /E Tobacco Institute draft plan for 1991 with emphasis on "Taxes." These are the economist-related paragraphs:

Objective
To discourage reliance on consumer excise taxes on cigarettes to meet social and economic objectives by demonstrating that excise taxes are regressive and inconsistent with fair taxation.

Goals and Tactics:

  • Commission two op-ed articles in 1991 from consulting economists. As articles are published, provide to other Institute decisions for promotion and submission to appropriate policy makers.
  • Conduct at least 10 presentations by consulting economists on the excise tax issue before national, regional and state tax policy conferences.
  • Continue to utilize consulting economists for testimony and briefings. Expand appearances to include presentations to business clubs and the business press. Conduct media refresher courses for public speaking appearance and delivery of testimony.
  • Utilize the consulting economists for an op-ed program that addresses the national earmarking issue and state specific earmarking issues. As articles are published, provide to other Institute divisions and promote to appropriate public policymakers. Use field staff network to support distribution efforts. [7]


CASH-FOR-COMMENTS ECONOMISTS IN 1991
1991 Jan 8: Jim Savarese has sent the current list of network economists to Carol Hyrcaj at the Tobacco Institute.
It contains three new names, but otherwise is essentially the same as the old lists.
Core Group: Robert D Tollison (George Mason) Richard E Wagner (Florida State, then GMU), Dwight R Lee (Georgia), Thomas E Borcherding (Claremont Coll./Maryland Uni.), William F Shughart (Clemson/GMU)
ALABAMA
Robert B Ekelund, Jr., Auburn University
ARIZONA
William J Boyes, Arizona State University
ARKANSAS
David ER Gay, University of Arkansas
CALIFORNIA
Gary M Anderson, California State at Northridge
Roger A Arnold, California State Univ. - San Marcos
COLORADO
Barry W Poulson, University of Colorado
CONNECTICUT
Dom Armento, University of Hartford
DELAWARE
Burton A Abrams, University of Delaware
FLORIDA
Bruce L Benson, Florida State University
GEORGIA
Dwight R Lee, University of Georgia
IDAHO
Allan Dalton, Boise State University
ILLINOIS
A James Heins, University of Illinois
INDIANA
Cecil E Bohanon, Ball state University
IOWA
Todd Sandler, Iowa State University
KANSAS
Michael Babcock, Kansas State University
KENTUCKY
Brian L Goff, Western Kentucky University
LOUISIANA
Michael M Kurth, McNeese State University
MAINE
Robert C McMahon, University of Southern Maine
MASSACHUSETTS
David G Tuerck, Suffolk University
MISSISSIPPI
Bill Shughart, University of Mississippi
MISSOURI
Joe A Bell, Southwest Missouri State University
Thomas I Wyrick, Southwest Missouri State University
MONTANA
Terry Anderson, Montana State University
NEBRASKA
Dee Martin, University of Nebraska
NEVADA
John L Dobra, University of Nevada Reno
NEW HAMPSHIRE
Dennis E Logue, Dartmouth College
NEW MEXICO
Allen M Parkman, University of New Mexico
NORTH DAKOTA
Cliff Dobitz, North Dakota State University
OHIO
Richard K Vedder, Ohio University
OKLAHOMA
Joseph M Jadlow, Oklahoma State University
OREGON
William C Mitchell, University of Oregon
PENNSYLVANIA
Ann Harper-Fender, Gettysburg College
RHODE ISLAND
Arthur C Mead, University of Rhode Island
SOUTH CAROLINA
Ryan C Amacher, Clemson University
SOUTH DAKOTA
Dennis D Hein, Augustana College
TENNESSEE
Jeffrey R Clark, The University of Tennessee at Martin
TEXAS
S Charles Maurice, Texas ASM University
Michael L Davis, Southern Methodist University
VIRGINIA
Richard E Wagner, George Mason University
WASHINGTON
Richard D Zerbe, Jr., University of Washington
http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/fik48b00/pdf


There is an unexplained gap in the archives between early 1991 and March 1993 for documents referencing Zerbe.



1993 Mar 23: James Savarese is proposing to Cal George at the Tobacco Institute a new Op-ed program.

Outlined below is our proposed op-ed program in opposition to the use of excise taxes to finance health care.

  • Op-ed article by Robert Tollison to be submitted to Wall Street Journal   $ 4,000.00
  • Rebuttal article by Bob Ekelund, Auburn University, to be submitted to the Birmingham News <img SRC="../library/space.gif" width=350 height=1> $ 3,000.00
  • "Monster" tax op-ed project using twenty economists (list attached) to submit articles in opposition to using excise taxes on cigarettes to finance health care reform - to be submitted to twenty newspapers in twenty different states $60,000.00
    TOTAL $67,000.00

Richard Zerbe is listed as one of the proposed lucky recipients of $3,000 in largess from the Tobacco Institute for slashing out a quick op-ed. He was to submit the article to Seattle Post and Intelligencer [8]


1993 May 2: Savarese's status report on the "Monster Tax Op-ed Project". This was a major project aimed at discrediting the Clinton Health Plan which was to be financed partly from raised cigarette excise taxes. The lists of network economists show how successful they had been in planting their op-eds on local newspapers.

WASHINGTON
Prof. Richard D. Zerbe, Jr.
The Graduate School of Public Affairs, DC-13
University of Washington Seattle, Washington 98195
Submitted to: (rejected) Seattle Post Intelligencer
Resubmitted: Seattle Times

{Note: The file allows you to trace the history of the op-ed as it passed through the Savarese and Tobacco Institute modification and checking processes.]

Sending op-ed on 5-21-93 — Received 5-28-93 [Note: by Savarese from Zerbe] — Sent to Cal [George] 6-1-93 [Note: Savarese to Tobacco Institute] — Sent ltr for rewrite 6-4-93 [Note: They wanted Zerbe to make major changes] — Sent revised to Cal 6-8-93 — Cleared [9]


1993 May 24: The Tobacco Institute has received two more op-eds from consulting economists on the "Clinton Health Care economic plans." Zerbe is still promising to send his draft article [10]


1993 June 3: Zerbe has sent in his op-ed and it has been initially sub-edited at Ogilvy & Mather PR. They then send it along to Jim Savarese with the note

Jim,
Please read the attached.
It raises two fundamental policy questions:

  • do we want to be associated with a piece that seems to advocate the legaliaation of presently illegal drugs?
  • do we want to be associated with a piece that so forthrightly bashes the use of alcohol? Do you see any simple ways to fix these problems or is this a rewrite situation?

The article is attached. [11]

[Note: Ogilvy and Mather's editors were even more sensitive than the later Tobacco Institute editors. Also Note that the second copy (below) has been retyped -- but without incorporating the O&M changes. Since whole section has disappeared, this must be the rewrite.]

1993 June 16: Ogilvy & Mather faxes the Zerbe article to Cal George at the Tobacco Institute.

I have made all the changes you recommended. Can this go to Zerbe, or does it need to go to lawyers?

[Note The Tobacco Institute had two major tobacco law firms, Covington & Burling and Shook Hardy & Bacon which checked out these articles before they were sent back to the authors for transmission as an 'independent submission' to their local newspapers.]


1993 June 17: Richard Zerbe's second attempt at an op-ed attacking the Clinton Health Care plans was 'cleared' after editing by the Tobacco Institute. It was titled "A Health Care Tax on Cigarettes". He uses the old PR ploy (sanctioned by the tobacco industry) of positioning himself as an anti-smoker in order to obtain credibility for his economic opinions. But clearly he overdoes it, judging from the Tobacco Institute's changes. The draft article, which had still to be retyped, now carries a lot of black ink.
[Bold inserts/strike out redactions]

  • I find smoking a noxious, unpleasant and unhealthy habit. People should quit smoking and our children should not smoke. But should we finance health care by a tax on cigarettes ?
  • It is only fair for society to strike back by imposing high taxes on those that cause harm to/impose costs on the rest of us, right?
  • [The arguments of non-smokers] would be be stronger if it had not been demonstrated that existing taxes did not cover/already cover the cost smokers would seem to impose on the rest of us.
  • [The estimated total tax will lessen] especially considering that less and less people are smoking each year; the 24% estimate [of smokers] will drop each year as smoking becomes more and more socially unacceptable.

This was followed by a paragraph struck out entirely with a side note "Do we want to say this?"

  • Considering our federal government's past involvement with the tobacco industry, one wonders if additional subsidies for tobacco producers and processors would suddenly become necessary.

There's also a scrawled remark on his income estimate: "Still doesn't make sense." [12]

[Note: This was the Tobacco Institute's editing - sent back to Ogilvy & Mather for the formal changes.]


1993 Aug 3: This is a series of lists dated from March to August 1993. Savarese's staff have sent these to the Tobacco Institute to progressively report successes and failures with the economists writing op-ed pieces and having them published. Collectively they give us a good idea as to how the network worked and how little they managed to plant on the major newspapers (the smaller local papers were obviously easy.) It's also interesting to observe the mechanical processes and the tight control the tobacco industry and its lawyers exerted over these academic lackies.

  • The articles were either rejected, revised or passed by Jim Savarese and his staff (initially at O&M)
  • They were then sent for checking and alteration by Cal George at the Tobacco Institute.
  • The lawyer David Remes who worked for the industry's main Washington lawfirm Covington & Burling then cleared them for publication.
  • The economist then received the revised copies back for onward transmission to the TI-selected newspapers.
  • If published, they would then send a copy to their local Congressmen without mentioning the tobacco industry's contractual arrangement.

Clearly, by 1993, many of the original network members were dropping out. The Tobacco Institute also appears to have been having problems getting even those academics who stayed loyal to write articles that justified their $2000 to $3000 payments. [Perhaps some of them developed a conscience!]
Despite the protestations, these are not 'independent' opinion articles. They are industry-shaped, manipulated propaganda pieces designed as advocacy vehicles to promote tobacco interests in political, media and public circles -- even when they don't directly mention or promote cigarettes or smoking.

These lists are all headed 'MONSTER' Tax Op-Ed Project:

WASHINGTON Prof Richard D Zerbe Jr, The Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle

  • Mar 23 -- [TI designated newspaper/s] Seattle Post Intelligencer
  • Apr 9 -- (No Information)
  • May 12 -- (No information)
  • May 18 -- Sending op-ed on 5/12/93
  • June 2 -- Received 5/28/93 -- Sent to Cal [Tobacco Institute staffer] 6/1/93
  • June 14-- Received 5/28/93: Sent to Cal 6/1/93; Sent letter for rewrite 6/4/93; Sent revised to Cal 6/8/93. (Cleared)
  • Aug 3 -- Submitted to Seattle Post Intelligencer (rejected)... resubmitted to Seattle Times [13]


This appears to be the last entry in the archive refererencing Richard Zerbe. He obviously dropped out of the tobacco network at this time.

Payment was dependent on the success of planting the op-eds on his designated newspapers, and he obviously wasn't very successful.



1995: The Washington State franchise for a cash-for-comments economist was transfered in 1995 to Bob Higgs of the Independent Institute. Higgs was given the job of getting material published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the control of the network was passed over at this time to the Independent Institute. [14]