Economists' network

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

Professor Robert D. Tollison of George Mason University, and the Ogilvy & Mather lobbyist, James M. Savarese, were the founders of the Tobacco Institute's clandestine Cash for Comments Economists' Network -- a group of academics who were paid a 'jobbing rate' to help the tobacco industry fight proposed tax increase on cigarettes and the declining acceptability of public and workplace smoking. They did this by:

  • writing op-eds (opinion articles) for local newspapers (on subject specified by the Tobacco Institute)
  • generating favorable research for publication,
  • presenting favorable papers at academic conferences and symposia,
  • were ready, when required, to challenge the 'social costs' economic arguments employed by anti-smoking activist at public and legislative forums.
  • engaged in writing letters-to-the-editor and briefing journalists on behalf of the industry (but never admitting the connection).

They were funded by the tobacco industry to counter the claims anti-smoking activists and public-health advocates that the cost that both active- and passive-smoking imposed on the community was excessive, and therefore required regulation on purely economic grounds ... let alone the medical and nuisance factors. This became known in the tobacco industry as the 'Social Costs' argument, and the industry had numerous internal working groups trying to find solution to this political/economic problem. They ended up employing large numbers of economists and others to counter the attack (about 120-130 over time).

Cash for Comment Economists Network
Network Documents Index

Social Cost

The term "social costs" refers to a number of related claims:

  1. - that smokers cost their employers more than nonsmoking employees due to increased absenteeism, higher health-care costs, and for the additional cleaning expenses.
  2. - smokers impose a penalty on the non-smokers in the workplace in terms of comfort and efficiency.
  3. - that smokers impose a community cost because of the increased fire danger they cause.
  4. - smokers created public litter and odours, and made sections of the public space unavailable to non-smokers.
  5. - that smokers cost the state and federal governments more because of hospital, medical and welfare subsidies.
  6. - the early death of smokers left spouses and children dependent on welfare.

The economists countered these claims by:

  1. - challenging the statistical studies and the validity of the data being used.
  2. - pointing to the high rates of federal and state duties and tax imposed on cigarettes (compensation)
  3. - pointing out that, since smokers die at a younger age, they actually costs less than non-smokers (using very dubious figures) because they were not dependent on welfare in their old age.


Stage One

The network was organised in two stages. Initially PR firm Ogilvy & Mather (and its then operator James M. Savarese) recruited six libertarian/Public choice economists and created the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth. This small group proved successful, and it was used as a launch-pad for the much larger Economist's Network with the aim of having at least one active economist operating in each state.

This larger group were given subjects to write about (sometimes with dubious data) and designated one or more local newspapers as targets for heir op-eds (opinion articles). They were also to follow up the article by contacting their local Congressmen or Asssembleymen.

The core network

  • Robert D. Tollison was the principle organisers of the network. He worked out of Virginia Polytechnic and then George Mason University. He was also a director of a subsidiary foundation known as the Center for Study of Public Choice and he ran the Public Choice Society with its guru James Buchanan. Tollison was the founding of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth (CTEG) which preceded the full economist's network,
  • James M. Savarese of Ogilvy & Mather PR (later of James Savarese and Associates headquartered in Washington DC) established his own firm in 1981 under some co-working deal with O&M. He claimed to have associates at major universities in more than 40 states' who could be called upon for extra-curricular work.
  • Harold M. Hochman, from the City University of New York. He also figured in the Tobacco Institute's Public Relations Divisions' Resources Catalog. [2] Hochman was a founding member of the CETG,
  • Thomas E. Borcherding, Professor of Economics, Claremont Graduate School in California. He was also on the 1995 Advisory Board of far-right-wing Independent Institute which later took over the network. [3] Borcherding was listed by the Public Relations Resources Commitee of the Tobacco Institute as a potential witness.
  • Fred McChesney, Emory University Law School, Georgia.
  • Dolores T. Martin, of the Uni of Nebraska.
  • Richard Vedder, Ohio University Department of Economics, Athens, Ohio [2]

Network activities

James Savarese worked extensively for the tobacco industry for many years on the recruitment of economists to support the industry, and for part of this time he worked with his old associate, Bob Tollison. [4]

In 1995 they jointly made a proposal to the tobacco industry for a 'Social Cost Program' [5], which was fundamentally the preparation of an economics paper intended to exploit George Mason University's credentials as a trust-worthy academic institute. The initial paper was to take one month to write and cost $27,500, and they were also intending to involve other members of their Economists' Network in milking the tobacco cash-cow and extending the propaganda value. Their proposal read:

"This paper will be readable. but technically designed for publication in JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] or other major economic journals. An initial version will be prepared as a George Mason University Department of Economics working paper for circulation to interested parties.

The white paper will include an Executive Summary, which can be used as a briefing fact shee{ for distribution among appropriate decision makers. This paper can be adapted as a sophisticated op-ed with attempted placements in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or the Washington Times."

In addition to this initial paper they wanted another $35,000 for one attacking a Rand Report which had not favoured the tobacco industry:

In the preparation of this paper. no original research is contemplated and assumptions will be carefully written to demonstrate that assumptions made by Rand and others are not necessarily accepted by authors but are used for the purpose of argument.

This paper can be adapted as a sophisticated op-ed with attempted placements in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or the Washington Times.

They then proposed to swing their Economists network into action by paying the members to write letters to the editor (LTE's) in support of the tobacco-funded position. This was being done primarily to influencing politicians, and it was estimated that the letters would need to be commissioned at $3,000 per market. Tollison and Savarese would organize this operation through their network:

A more comprehensive op-ed program which will involve a network of 20 economists attempting to place op-eds in major newspapers in targeted Congressional districts. Development of these op-eds will be supervised by Dr. Tollision and will be based on the findings of the white papers. Placements will be matched with key Republicans in Congress, both out of the ranks of the leadership and the new Republican members. In some cases. key Democrats have been targeted.

Current Activities

The "Current Activities" of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth, lists a range of CTEG positive actions -- using this "informal committee of economists from 42 states who have collectively and individually participated in activities on behalf of the tobacco industry in the areas of excise taxation and public smoking". [6] This scan was run by the Tobacco Institute through the PR arm o the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather. Later Jim Savarese split the operation away from O&M and established James Savarese and Associates.

It is not entirely clear how much overlap there is between the Economist's network which appears to be jointly run by Tollison and Savarese, and the CTEG committee, which involves Ogilvy & Mather. They were probably just different phases of the same development.

Membership list of the C4C Economists' network

Clearly this is only a partial list of the associates of Robert Tollison and James Savarese. These economists were not just available to the tobacco industry, but to corporations in general if they ever needed an economist to counter an economic argument. Curriculum vitae of each of these economists was available on request. Mostly they prepared op-ed pieces for their local newspapers on request from Savarese and Tollison: [7]

The Tobacco Institute offered its companies and associates a long list of Cash for Comments Economists:

"Those economists who have testified or prepared op-ed pieces on the economic effects of public smoking are marked accordingly. The others may be briefed on the potential cost to government of implementing smoking restrictions. "

  • Abrams, Burton, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Delaware, Newark, DE
  • Alston, Lee, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
  • Amacher, Ryan, (Dean) College of Commerce and Industry, Clemson University, Clemson, SC
  • Anderson, William, (Prof.) Ph.D, Office of Economic, and Community Development, City of Chatanooga, Chatanooga, TN
  • Anderson, Terry, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
  • Armentano, Dominick, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT
  • Bohanon, Cecil, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Ball State University, Muncie, IN
  • Borcherding, Thomas, (Prof.) Economics Department, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA Borcherding was a founding member of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth set up specifically by the tobacco industry.
  • Butler, Henry, (Prof.) Department of Management, School of Business, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
  • Coats, Morris, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Marshall University, Huntington, WV
  • Crew, Michael, (Prof.) School of Administrative Sciences, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ
  • Dalton, Allan, (Prof.) Economics Department, Boise State university, Boise, ID
  • Denzau, Arthur, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Washington University, St. Louis, MO ,
  • Dobitz, Cliff, (Prof.) Department of Economics, North Dakota State, Fargo, ND
  • Eberts, Randall, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
  • Ekelund, Robert B., Jr., (Prof) Lowder Professor of Economics, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
  • Faith, Roger L., (Prof.) , Department of Economics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
  • Gaspari, Celeste, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Vermont, Burlington,VT
  • Gay, David, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AK
  • Greene, Kenneth V., (Prof.) Department of Economics, State University of New York, Binghampton, NY
  • Hanna, Sherman, (Prof.) Economics Department, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
  • Harper-Fender, Anne, (Prof.) Head, Department of Economics, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA
  • Hein, Dennis, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Augustana College , Sioux Falls, SD
  • Heins, James, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • Hochman, Harold M., (Prof.) Public Policy Program-School of Business, City University of New York, New York, NY. Hochman is a founding member of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth set up specifically by the tobacco industry.
  • Hoffer, George Emil, (Prof.) Chairman, Department of Economics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
  • Hunter, William, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
  • Jadlow, Joseph, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK
  • Kormendi, Roger, (Prof) Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Kurth, Michael, (Prof.) Department of Economics, McNeese State University, Lake Charles, LA
  • Laband, David, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Catonsville, MD
  • Lee, Dwight, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. Lee testified against proposed public smoking legislation in Harrisburg-and Philadelphia, PA, in mid-1985. He was a long-term tobacco lobbyist who worked for the industry on numerous projects.
  • Lindsay, Cotton Mather, (Prof.) J. Wilson Professor of Managerial Economics, Department of Economics, Clemson University, Clemson, SC
  • Logue, Dennis, (Prof.) Tuck School Of Business, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
  • Martin, Delores, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NB
  • McChesney, Fred, (Prof.) Emory University, School of Law, Atlanta, GA. McChesney was a founding member of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth set up specifically by the tobacco industry.
  • McMahon, Robert C., (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME. McMahon delivered testimony on the negative impacts of public smoking restrictions in early 1985 in Maine.
  • Mead, Arthur, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI
  • Menchik, Paul, (Prof.) Economics Department, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • Militello, John F., Economic researcher, Wharton Center for Applied Research, Philadelphia, PA
  • Parkman, Allen, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NX
  • Peterson, William, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Tennessee-Chatanooga, Chatanooga, TN
  • Pogue, Thomas, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
  • Poulson, Barry, (Prof.) Head, Department of Economics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO. Poulson wrote an op-ed on negative effects of proposed public smoking legislation in Colorado Springs. Article appeared on Aug. 4, 1985 in Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph.
  • Raab, Raymond, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Duluth, MN
  • Rucker, Randy, (Prof.) Department of Economics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
  • Sandler, Todd, (Prof.) Department of Economics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY
  • Shugart, William, (Prof.) Center for the Study of Public Choice, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Shugart has contributed to the preparation of several , pieces of testimony on public smoking restrictions.
  • Sweetser, Wendell E., (Prof.) Department of Economics, Marshall University, Huntington, WV
  • Tollison, Robert, Director, Center for the Study of Public Choice, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Tollison testified against the workplace smoking bill, proposed by the DC City Council in July 1905, and the Federal workplace smoking bill (S.1440), in October 1985. He also has prepared other testimony on the issue. Tollison was the founder of the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth set up specifically by the tobacco industry.
  • Vedder, Richard, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Ohio University, Athens, OH
  • Wagner, Richard, (Prof.) Department of Economics, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL. Wagner testified against public smoking legislation in Tallahassee, Florida, early in 1985. He was a close associate of Tollison and co-writer of much of the material.
  • Watson, Keith, (Prof.) , Economics Department, Auburn University, Auburn, AL

See Cash for Comments Economists Network for more details.


  1. "Social Costs" Activities. Chilcote SD Jr. Letter. March 16, 1988. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 506644070/4073
  2. James Savarese Memorandum to Fred Panzer, Jeff Ross and Susan Stuntz, Tobacco Institute documents collection, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, January 6, 1987, Bates No. TI18230621 at page -0626