WASHINGTON -- Augusta's U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood was the third largest recipient of contributions from tobacco companies in the House in 1995 and 1996, a group said Friday.
Dr. Norwood, R-Ga., received $33,500 from various tobacco political-action committees, according to a report by Public Citizen, a nonprofit group founded by Ralph Nader.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook accused the tobacco industry of trying to "charm Congress" into passing legislation granting them immunity from lawsuits.
"Big Tobacco lavishes seductive campaign contributions on (lawmakers) ... every day of the year," she said. "Its scheme is to press (them) to go all the way in granting immunity, by buying their affection with expensive presents."
Public Citizen's report, "Sweethearts of Big Tobacco," attempts to correlate big donations by tobacco PACs with votes favorable to the industry.
Besides listing PAC donations, the report scored each House member's votes on three tobacco-related bills that reached the House floor last year.
A low score correlates with votes favorable to the tobacco industry.
Dr. Norwood scored zero, as did U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Mr. Graham received $8,000 in campaign contributions from tobacco PACs during 1995 and 1996.
The study rated U.S. senators based on eight 1997 votes and listed PAC donations to their campaigns from 1991-1996.
U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., voted against the industry's position on bills 25 percent of the time, while receiving $24,998 from tobacco PACs -- 17th on the list of senators.
U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., received a 13 percent score and $15,500 in tobacco PAC donations. U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., scored 38 percent, with $11,000 in tobacco PAC contributions. U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., received a score of 50, with $2,000 in tobacco donations.
Maury Lane, a spokesman for Mr. Hollings, pointed out that the legislation used to score lawmakers did not protect tobacco farmers, a group that was not mentioned in the $368 billion proposed global tobacco settlement announced last June.
Six of the 10 senators with the most in tobacco PAC donations represent major tobacco-growing states.
"Not one person in Public Citizen represents a South Carolina tobacco farmer," said Mr. Lane. "Until one of them has that responsibility, they will never know what it takes to ensure that we don't destroy the lives of thousands of tobacco farmers and related industry workers."
"I am very proud of the votes," added Mr. Graham. "They were trying to deny tobacco farmers a profit."
Jonathan Baron, spokesman for Mr. Coverdell, charged Public Citizen with hypocrisy for attacking lawmakers based on reports designed to ensure full public disclosure, while refusing to disclose its own sources of funding.
John Stone, a spokesman for Dr. Norwood, could not be reached Friday.
Ms. Claybrook agreed that tobacco farmers need help to cope with the proposed settlement, including programs promoting other ways to make a living.
"It's one thing to support farmers in states," she said. "It's another thing to take money from tobacco companies."