John L Dobra
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Professor John L Dobra was contracted as a Cash for Comments Economic Network]] member while employed at the Univesity of Nevada, Reno. The network was run for the tobacco industry by Robert D Tollison, and Dobra had worked with him (and with a number of other network economists) at the Virginia Polytechnic.
The idea of running a team of cash-for-comments academic economists was developed by Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations for the Tobacco Institute in 1983 and 1984. At that time the operation was run by one of O&M's contracted consultants, James Savarese, who had both economics and labor/union contacts, and it focussed on a small core-group of academic economists who were found speaking engagements at various society meetings.
Both the Tobacco Institute and Jim Savarese knew Professor Robert D Tollison, of the Economics Department of George Mason University who also ran the neo-con/supply-side Public Choice Society. Tollison and his associate Richard E Wagner had long worked for the international tobacco lobby organisation ICOSI (later INFOTAB) and they had excellent contacts with a large number of Hayek [libertarian] economists at other universities, due mainly to Tollison's directorship of the Center for Study of Public Choice, which was located at GMU, but run as a private think-tank.
Tobacco Industry money generously supported the Center, and before long Tollison and Savarese were using it as a recruitment and money-laundry service to develop the cash-for-comments network among appropriate academic economists. The idea was to have in each of the States at least one "Professor of Economics" at a prominent local university, who was willing to support and promote industry propaganda. They were paid on a piece-work basis, averaging $1,000 to $3,000 each for articles planted in local newspapers, or for appearances as 'independent expert witnesses' at legislative or ordinance hearings on smoking bans, or to oppose the raising of excise taxes on cigarettes.
The first project began in June 1984 with Tollison and Savarese getting 13 network economists to write op-ed articles in support of the tobacco industry position on excise taxes. These draft articles were sent first to the Tobacco Institute for 'improvement' and legal clearance, then returned to the economist who was instructed to plant them on a specific local newspaper, -- and then send copies to their Congressmen (Reps and Senators). This became the pattern of operations.
Jim Savarese and Bob Tollison supported by wife Anne Tollison and staff from the Center took over the operations from O&M, and they branched out into a diverse range of cash-for-comments academic networks enlisting academic professors in law, business, marketing, and advertising. They also had a stable of indoor-air-quality testing experts, risk-assessment specialists, biomedical researchers, etc.
These academics all had in common the desire to make money from the tobacco industry without revealing their connection to the 'Merchants of Death'. Savarese and Tollison provided them with the shield from 'legal discovery' so they were able to claim that these were "independent expert opinion articles" (op-eds). Some of the better newspapers may also have paid them separately for their journalistic contributions.
Some of the more enthusiastic of these tobacco lackeys were also designated to attend local ordinance hearings on public smoking, and in some cases to attended and gave expert evidence to legislative inquiries and the like. Their credibility rested on the fact that they were esteemed academics from a State university. In effect, they were mining the credibility of their institutional employer and their academic associates, for personal gain.