Smoking out the truth in Big Tobacco fight in AG’s race: Sun-Times transcript

SHARE Smoking out the truth in Big Tobacco fight in AG’s race: Sun-Times transcript

Democrats campaigning for attorney general met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

State Sen. Kwame Raoul is calling a fellow Democratic candidate for attorney general a “serial liar” for contending that Raoul said the attorney general’s office had approved his campaign contributions from Big Tobacco.

The testy exchange happened Wednesday during a Chicago Tribune Editorial Board endorsement session. The two were sparring over comments made during an earlier endorsement session when Raoul and the seven other Democratic candidates appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

The Tribune reported that Jesse Ruiz,Chicago Park Board president and former Chicago Board of Education head, said Raoul defended taking the tobacco industry money during the Sun-Times meeting by saying he had the contributions approved by the attorney general’s office. The Hyde Park senator repeatedly disputed that, the Tribune reported, calling Ruiz a “serial liar.”

What was actually said at the Sun-Times on Jan. 11 does not completely clear the air.

Raoul did not say the contributions were approved by the attorney general, but at one point he does say “I checked with the donor, and I checked with the attorney general’s office.” But then he goes on to talk about the status of the national tobacco settlement.

Raoul last year received 10 political contributions of $10,000 each from companies including Top Tubes, Republic Tobacco and Top Tobacco. Top Tobacco is included in a national tobacco settlement enforced by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that is still being enforced in Illinois.

The attorney general’s office in 1998 reached a landmark settlement with tobacco companies after filing suit in response to serious concerns about the tobacco industry’s marketing practices and “public deception regarding the health risks that cigarettes post to consumers.”

Illinois was the 16th state to file, and the state’s share amounts to $9.1 billion.

There is ongoing litigation over provisions of the master settlement agreement, according to the attorney general’s office. It initially affected large tobacco companies but over time, more tobacco companies signed on. The attorney general’s office is still litigating 2004 payments.

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Here’s a transcript of what Raoul said during the Sun-Times meeting in a discussion about conflicts of interest. The exchange is between Raoul, Ruiz, lawyer Aaron Goldstein and Sharon Fairley, former chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority.

Aaron Goldstein: “Senator, if you were the attorney general, would you continue with the lawsuit against the tobacco companies?”

Raoul: “I talked to the attorney general. The attorney general does not control that lawsuit.”

Goldstein: “But you have oversight. You have oversight as attorney general. Would you remove yourself from it?”

Raoul: “The attorney general does not control that lawsuit.I checked with the donor and I checked with the attorney general’s office. They are a signatory to the settlement. The settlement is done. What happened is that … [interrupted by others] Let me finish.”

Ruiz: “That is not true.”

Raoul: “First of all let me start with the fact that I am not for sale.”

Sharon Fairley: “No, because you’ve already been bought.”

Raoul: “Sharon, I have not interrupted you once in this. Let me start with the fact that I am not for sale. As Kathy Drea [a lobbyist] from the [American] Lung Association has said, I’ve received campaign contributions from this donor before. My tobacco record is 100 percent anti-tobacco.”

Ruiz: “But in favor of this donor against other tobacco manufacturers.”

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