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The “Hall of Shame” Advertisement

The core of the ANR/AHA strategy was to bring the issue of Proposition 99 back before the public, with the expectation that an informed and engaged electorate would force the politicians to implement Proposition 99 the way the voters intended. The media had come to view Proposition 99 as just one more fight over money in Sacramento. So the first step in accomplishing this goal was getting the media interested in the issue by publishing a very strong advertisement in the Sacramento Bee attacking Governor Wilson and CMA lobbyist Steve Thompson for their roles in the Proposition 99 diversions. This advertisement, which appeared on January 30, 1996, featured photographs of Governor Wilson and Steve Thompson as the mock nominees for the “Tobacco Industry Hall of Shame” (figure 16).

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Figure 16. “Hall of Shame” newspaper advertisement. Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights and the American Heart Association ran the advertisement in the Sacramento Bee on January 30, 1996, to indicate that the rules of the game on Proposition 99 had changed. (Courtesy of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights)
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The advertisement attracted Thompson's attention. Nancy Miller of the law firm Hyde, Miller & Owen wrote Bowser, objecting that “your political advertisement is personally and professionally damaging to Mr. Thompson. He would like a retraction of the damaging and inaccurate statements in an ad of equal size placed in the Sacramento Bee as soon as possible. He is requesting approval of the language of such an ad.”[24] Steve Thompson followed this letter with one on CMA letterhead to Bowser that read:

The issue of whether the Child Health [and] Disability Prevention program should be funded in part with Prop. 99 health education funds goes back to initial implementation of the initiative. While members of the initial Prop. 99 coalition disagreed on this issue, a compromise was reached to fund CHDP from health education to ensure enactment and maintain a common front against the tobacco industry whose major objective was to eliminate the television advertising program. This initial agreement occurred two years prior to my joining CMA. As a legislative staff person at the time, I supported the agreement because the threat to the advertising program was very real. …

As tobacco tax revenues declined as a result of the many successful efforts following the enactment of Proposition 99…indeed, including efforts of the Heart Association…competition for fewer dollars became intense, and what was once considered a compromise became an “illegal raid” on the tobacco education account. …

Through legal counsel, I requested (in addition to Dr. Lewin's request), that you apologize for your untrue advertisement. As the attachments indicate, you have no intention of doing so. In fact, while litigation was never mentioned in Ms. Miller's letter to you, you threatened to counter sue (“slap-suit”) if I chose to pursue the issue legally. Outside of fulfilling an enormous emotional need…which will stick in my craw for a long time to come. …I don't believe litigation will result in civilizing this debate. I believe you've done your cause an enormous disservice and hope you reflect on the value and ethics of your current tactics.[25]

Thompson also defended Governor Wilson, who, in his view, “was also unfairly smeared in your ad.”[25]

Adams was sure that her new offensive was going to get her organization sued, although Bowser shrugged off the Thompson letter as bluster. Carol and Glantz passed the threatening letter on to the San Francisco Chronicle and it made news:

Darts, not hearts, are flying this Valentine's Day between the American Heart Association and organized medicine: The nonprofit group claims that California doctors have run off with Governor Wilson and the tobacco industry.

The latest spat—nasty even by Sacramento standards—began two weeks ago when the California office of the American Heart Association signed a newspaper advertisement “nominating” Wilson and the California Medical Association lobbyist Steve Thompson to the “Tobacco Industry Hall of Fame.”… Wilson was not amused by the ad. And Thompson—one of the most prominent figures in the state capital—had his personal lawyer fire off a demand for a retraction.

Dr. Jack Lewin, executive director of the California Medical Association, called the name-calling “unconscionable” and “slanderous” in a letter to the heart association and threatened legal action if more advertisements appear.

“The heart association will print no retraction,” said Mary Adams, chief lobbyist for the California charity.

Adams said that the association will forge ahead with a publicity campaign that challenges doctors' roles in the battle over anti-smoking programs. “This is a diversion from the American Heart Association's way of doing business, but that just underscores the importance we attach to this,” said Adams. “It's time to get this issue out in the open.”[26]

The media was finally paying attention to Proposition 99 again.

The fact that AHA had allied itself with the “radicals” at ANR also interested the media. Steve Scott of the California Journal observed,

The Heart Association's participation was crucial to the credibility of those ads. ANR is a wonderful organization. They do a lot of good stuff but they are viewed by the Sacramento press, which winds up covering this, as kind of the radicals. They're the ones who are beating the drums. When the Heart Association came on, then all of a sudden you had this group that is perceived as “centrist,” one of the moderates. So one of the moderates had gone over to the other side and all of a sudden you had a situation where the voluntaries couldn't claim unanimity. Lung and Cancer couldn't say, “Oh well, ANR—they're just out there on the fringes.”[4]

Thompson also apparently mobilized support from other medical groups. The California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the California Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the California Society of Plastic Surgeons, and the California Society of Anesthesiologists all responded to the “Hall of Shame” advertisement by writing an open letter to the California senators and Assembly members to lampoon the same “hit list” of projects that they had lampooned in 1994 during the hearings on AB 816. The letter from the specialist groups made it sound as though the same old fight about money was about to surface again.

CMA lobbyist Elizabeth McNeil was unhappy with the advertisement, not only because it attacked the CMA but also because she felt it would make Wilson more intransigent:

The first ad was pretty devastating as far as moving anything politically, and we thought that shut the door completely to doing anything. …I think that turned off a lot of people, not only in the Capitol but around here. I think it was a very stupid move politically. I think it hurt his kids, hurt his family, and he's been someone who has always fought for kids' programs and health programs. …But it just dug the governor in. The governor called up Steve and said, “Forget it, I'm not going to compromise on this and all conversations are off, basically.”[27]

The AHA and ANR shrugged off these criticisms. They purposely had designed the ad to get people's attention, believing that it was better than being ignored. Isenberg thought the 1996 advertising campaign had value, and he also confirmed that it enraged Thompson: “Thompson was beside himself. God, he was so mad. My wife took…the one with Steve in it. She altered it a little bit and said, `Steve Thompson, drug dealer' [laughter]. Anyway, Steve didn't think that was very funny. Well, it's like everything else in politics, it escalates the battle. It certainly irritated Wilson, agitated the California Medical Association. Did it have some impact? Might have had some impact, together with the second lawsuit.”[22]


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