Robert B Ekelund

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


Robert Burton Ekelund Jr., was not your normal Cash for Comments Economists Network lacky for the tobacco industry: he insisted on the title of Lowder Professor of Economics at Auburn University, Alabama. He was recruited to help maintain the tobacco industry's profits by Robert Tollison an economist at George Mason University. Tollison worked with James Savarese, a lobbyist with Ogilvy and Mather in the early 1990s -- who later set up his own lobbying company and went into partnership with Tollison.

There are 1206 documents in the tobacco archives with his name, which professes something about Ekelund's value to the tobacco industry in retaining their constitutional rights to kill their customers, and irritate the hell out of nearby non-smokers.

Ekelund didn't just work as a university professor:

  • He also ran his own private consultancy, RB Ekelund and Associates in Blake Street, Auburn which was also used to launder tobacco industry payments.
  • He provided services to many libertarian think-tanks in the Atlas Group network. (Hoover, Heartland, Heritage, Independent Institute)
  • He ran his own sub-network for tobacco, using a half-dozen other professors at Auburn University: Richard Ault, David Saurman, John Jackson, Robert F Hebert, J. Keith Watson, and Mark Thornton.

Ekelund's CVs tell us that he was:

 

HOW THE NETWORK WORKED

The Cash-for-Comments Economists' Network was run by Savarese through a partnership with Professor Robert D Tollison who used the staff and facilities of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University to prove cut-out and organisation services. They developed and maintained a network of Economics Professors with at least one on tap in virtually every US state. As one Professor transferred or dropped out (there was a regular turn-over) a new one would be recruited in that State. In all, about 130 university professors were involved in the period 1985-1995, and costs ran to $3 million/year at a time when professor's salaries were in the $30-40,000 pa range. An active network member at a State university could almost double his normal salary.

  The main focus of the group was to write commissioned op-ed articles on a subject determined by the Tobacco Institute. The draft article would then pass back through the network to TI staff, who were essentially public relations experts. Here they were 'improved' and refined; then sent to the Institute's outside lawyers for vetting. Modified articles then returned to the professor, who would then send them to a designated State newspaper as if they were his 'independent expert opinion'. The professors received a base amount for writing and bonuses for successfully planting the article on the newspaper. Some, but not all, received a small (eg.$1000) annual retainer.[2]]

  Published papers would also be copied by the professor and sent to his local Federal Representative and Senator (for a further bonus). Sometimes there were special commissions, but generally the work was writing op-eds and LTE's where they were paid just on results (varied from about $700 to $3000 over the years). Network members could also be called upon to provide witness services and promote the cigarette companies' political/economic line at local ordinance or State legislative hearings. An active professor of economics at a State University could almost double his salary with these activities and with some further appearances, for instance, speaking on the importance of cigarettes in economic terms at major economic conferences, etc.
      Cash for Comments Economists Network   &   Robert Tollison   &   James Savarese   &   Network Document Index

 

Overall, Tollison and Savarese recruited (in total) between 120 and 130 professors of economics (usually Libertarian - Public Choice zealots at State Universities). Some stayed for the duration while others washing temporarily through this lobbying scam. Most of the recruits were members of Tollison's Public Choice Society which had the public-choice libertarian economics guru James Buchanan at its head.

Anna Tollison (wife) also appears to have handled the Society and some network operations, while Savarese had Leslie Dawson (wife of Sam Dawson from United Steel Worker's Assoc/union) and Kelleigh Varnum (aka Kelleigh Varnum-Roffman) as his key assistants.

The recruited professors would be instructed on occasions to write a 1200-1400 word opinion article (known as 'op-eds') for their local newspaper. The subject to be discussed or the claim to be challenged, and any important statistical information and possibly a broad outline, would be sent to them along with the names of (usually two) selected newspapers. They would also be given the name of two local Federal or State politicians to lobby by sending a copy of their article, along with a personal note.

They were paid on the basis of work performed -- at rates which varied between $600 and $3,000 for each article. This was good money for a second-rate State university professor of economics at the time. See longer explanations: Economists' network and the full-blown Cash for Comments Economists Network.

Ekelund was part of the inner-core group who circled around Tollison and Buchanan. This group harvested the extra rich tobacco industry pickings available from them giving special lectures, appearing at media events, giving radio interviews, writing books, etc.

Ekelund and Thornton

Ekelund and Mark Thornton, both Auburn University professors, produced for the Tobacco Institute many hogwash op-eds to oppose restrictions on cigarette advertising: Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination

"Advertising presents a difficult logical paradox to those who hold the view that there are differences between markets for legal products and markets for ideas. There is no validity to the notion that consumers can properly evaluate proposed national policies when selecting officeholders but are. somehow unable to choose between cans of beans or to decide whether to smoke cigarettes or not." [3] -- Ekelund

"Consulting economists have identified an opportunity to present earmarking arguments during the Southwest Social Science Association meeting in Fort Worth, TX, early next year. Robert Ekelund will chair the session, "The Political Economy of Tax Earmarking." The papers, to be presented by Tollison, Wagner and Lee, will consist of chapters from the upcoming user fees/earmarking book." [4] - Tobacco Institute Confidential Memo online, page 20.

"Two papers, one by Professor J.J. Boddewyn and another by Professors Ekelund and Jackson are now being printed in the British Journal of Addiction. The papers rebut a New Zealand study by Chettwynd et. al., alleging that advertising influence young people's smoking. Also to be included is an article by Glen Smith of the Children's Research Unit. The rebuttals will appear in the Fall issue, expected in December." [5] - Tobacco Institute Confidential Memo online, page 14.

 

HOW THE NETWORK WORKED

The Cash-for-Comments Economists' Network was run by Savarese through a partnership with Professor Robert D Tollison who used the staff and facilities of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason University to prove cut-out and organisation services. They developed and maintained a network of Economics Professors with at least one on tap in virtually every US state. As one Professor transferred or dropped out (there was a regular turn-over) a new one would be recruited in that State. In all, about 130 university professors were involved in the period 1985-1995, and costs ran to $3 million/year at a time when professor's salaries were in the $30-40,000 pa range. An active network member at a State university could almost double his normal salary.

  The main focus of the group was to write commissioned op-ed articles on a subject determined by the Tobacco Institute. The draft article would then pass back through the network to TI staff, who were essentially public relations experts. Here they were 'improved' and refined; then sent to the Institute's outside lawyers for vetting. Modified articles then returned to the professor, who would then send them to a designated State newspaper as if they were his 'independent expert opinion'. The professors received a base amount for writing and bonuses for successfully planting the article on the newspaper. Some, but not all, received a small (eg.$1000) annual retainer.[6]]

  Published papers would also be copied by the professor and sent to his local Federal Representative and Senator (for a further bonus). Sometimes there were special commissions, but generally the work was writing op-eds and LTE's where they were paid just on results (varied from about $700 to $3000 over the years). Network members could also be called upon to provide witness services and promote the cigarette companies' political/economic line at local ordinance or State legislative hearings. An active professor of economics at a State University could almost double his salary with these activities and with some further appearances, for instance, speaking on the importance of cigarettes in economic terms at major economic conferences, etc.
      Cash for Comments Economists Network   &   Robert Tollison   &   James Savarese   &   Network Document Index

 

Documents & Dates

1940 Sep 20 Born at Galveston, Texas


1962 BBA in Economics, St Mary's University, San Antonio, Texas


1963 MA in Economics, St Mary's University, San Antonio, Texas


1967 -79 Instructor-Tutor [claimed Assistant/Associate Professor], Texas A&M University


1967 Finally completed his PhD in Economics through Louisiana State University


1979 Associate Professor of Economics at Auburn University. Moved to Alabama


1981 Writing with Robert Tollison (who was briefly at Texas A&M Uni) -- This output was reviewed by another C4C economist David Gay.


1982 -83 Ekelund lists in his C/V "Consulting to the Bureau of Economics, FTC, Washington DC"

[At this time the FTC is at war with the tobacco industry]

1983 On his CV he lists ' to Present' "Consulting to the Heritage Foundation, Washington DC" [7]


1983 He has been elevated to the lofty chair of "'Lowder Professor of Economics at Auburn University."'


1984He lists in his 1984 C/V as 'Present' "Consulting for Ogilvy & Mather, PR, Washington DC"

[James Savarese worked for the Tobacco Institute via O&M at this time]

Also in the 1992 update of his C/V he says that he is "Consulting for Savarese and Company, Washington DC" [8]

[But he makes no mention of the Tobacco Institute]

1985 June/1986 March-July The Cash for Comments Economists Network was commissioned by the Tobacco Institute to write economic opinion pieces opposing excise taxes on cigarettes in mid-year-1985. This propaganda requirment resurfaced as a major project for the economist in the peak of the Tobacco Industry's PR campaign against the Packwood tax plan (although the threat was obviously still a possibility until the end of 1986r).

The Tobacco institute (much later) put together a package of commissioned economics reports (see front section of document), followed by about thirty op-eds and composite pieces which were generated by the Tollison/Savarese Cash for Comments Economists Network in this 1985-86 time frame. It illustrates the propaganda value of this network -- and shows what it can accomplish in a very short time for just a few thousand dollars in academic bribes.

These op-eds attacking the Packwood tax plan were all published in local newspaper across the USA. (Copies needed to be sent in for payment to be made.) A few are from July 1985 and the rest appeared in local newspapers during March-July 1986. These spontaneous independent expressions of expert opinion all miraculously come from Professors of Economics attached to the Center for Study of Public Choice ...

Joseph M Jadlow, Oklahoma State Uni. (He had two op-eds in different papers.);   William C Mitchell Uni of Oregon, Eugene;   Lee G Anderson, Uni of Delaware;   John S Howe Uni of Kansas, Lawrence;   D. Allen Dalton, Boise State University;   Thomas F Pogue, Uni of Iowa, Iowa City (He had two.);   Scott Atkinson, Uni of Wyoming. (He had two in different papers.);   S. Charles Maurice, Texas A&M Uni;   Todd Sandler, Uni of Wyoming;   Michael A Crew, Rutgers Uni, Newark;   Robert B Ekelund Jr., Auburn Uni (He had two.) ;   Ann Harper-Fender, Gettysburg College;   Lee Alston, Williams College;   Paul L Menchik, Michigan State Uni;   Henry N Butler, Texas A&M Uni;   Burton A Abrams, Uni of Delaware;   Ryan C Amacher, Clemson Uni (He had two.);   Dominick T Armentano, Uni of Hartford;   Fred McChesney, Emory Uni;   and a think-tanker David Wilhelm (Citizens for Tax Justice);

Also short extract pieces and letters-to-the-editor from A James Heins, Uni of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana;   William J Hunter, Marquette Uni, Milwaukee;   Dennis E Logue, Dartmouth College;   William F Shughart, George Mason Uni;   Harold Hochman, Baruch College, City Uni of New York;

Also uncredited overviews in the Newport Daily News, the Times-Review in Texas, Herald PA, etc. which expresses the encapsulated wisdom of most of the above with the addition of Thomas Borcherding (Claremont Graduate School, Calif);   K. Celeste Gaspari, Uni of Vermont, Birmingham;   David N Laband, Uni of Maryland;   Dean Tipps (Service Employees Intl. Union);   Allen M Parkman, Uni of New Mexico, Alburquerque, NM;   Richard K Vedder, Ohio Uni, Athens;   Roger L Faith, Arizona State Uni, Tempe;   Lee Alston, Williams College Mass;   and William J Hunter, Marquette Uni, Wisc.; (Some sections were published in multiple papers). [9]
This was a massive amount of propaganda coverage for a payment of less than $1000 each to these Professors at that time.


1985 Dec 12 At the annual meeting of the Tobacco Institute the PR Report included a paragraph which noted the contribution to retaining smoking by Ekelund:

Professor Robert Ekelund (Auburn University) wrote an op-ed article on tax reform that appeared in the Huntsville Times on March 3 (newspaper in home district of Ways & Means Member Flippo). Copies were sent to Flippo.[10]


1988 He now adds to his credentials "Lowder Eminent Scholar at Auburn University".


1989 Jan 11 The tobacco Institute's list of the working members of the Cash for Comments Economists Network with addresses and phone numbers. He is the only economist now being listed in Alabama -- despite the fact that hew was still writing with Mark Thornton. All contacts with Alabama/Auburn Economists must have been channeled through Ekelund. [11]


1990 Aug 23 Richard Ault and Ekeland have made a proposal to critque the Healthy and Human Services (HHS) report titled "National Status Report on Smoking and Health" (1990). They haven't yet evaluated this report, but they know that they can attack it. [12]


1990 Nov 28 Ekelund has sent a report to James Savarese about a session at the Southern Economics Association meeting on "Economics and Smoking" at New Orleans. John Jackson of Auburn Uni appears to have presented a paper attacking Surgeon-General Koop. He forecasted "Tax Revenue Losses in a Smokeless Society". [13]


1991 Apr 8 Ekelund has sent a report to James Savarese about a session at the Southwest Social Science Association meeting on "The Political Economy of Dedicated Taxes" (San Antonio, Texas) Robert Tollison appears to have been the main speaker, withe C4C economists, Ault, Watson, Thornton and Jackson contributing to the discussion. [14]

He must have been on a retainer to oversee such meetings and write the reports.



1993 May 19 Punitive Taxes on Cigarettes Are Both Ineffective, Unfair. by Robert Ekelund and Mark Thornton. Atlanta Journal/Constitution op/ed. [15] We are advised in the write-off that the authors: Robert B. Ekelund Jr. and Mark Thornton teach economics at Auburn University . Ekeland is the Edward L. and Catherine K. Lowder Eminent Scholar, while Thornton is only the O.P. Alford III Assistant Professor of Economics.

Of course if cigarette taxes were ineffective, then the tobacco industry wouldn't have paid this pretentious pair $1000+ to write this op-ed.

1993 Jun 13 The Greensboro News & Record carries another piece: Cigarette Tax Is Based on Shaky Numbers also by Robert Ekelund and Mark Thornton. Their arguments are quite extraordinary in concept, and decidedly novel in their convoluted claims:

We cannot blame rising health care costs on tobacco because health care costs have risen fastest over a period in which fewer people smoke and when more smokers have increasingly chosen low-tar cigarettes.

Mandated health insurance for all will only escalate costs further and make people less responsible for maintaining their own health.

[16]


1994 Aug A Alexis de Tocqueville report "The EPA and the Science of ETS" has been funded by the Tobacco Institute. The author was Adjunct Scholar Kent Jeffreys, and the senior reviewer was S. Fred Singer, a Professor of Environmental Science (on leave from the University of Virginia) and a Senior Fellow at the Institute. The final report was scheduled to be complete mid-June and it would be entitled "Science and Environmentalism".

A confidential memo by the president of the Tobacco Institute, Samuel D. Chilcote, Jr., described how this secret tobacco-funded report was being used in legislative lobbying:

This morning Reps. Peter Geren (D-TX) and John Mica (R-FL) held a press conference announcing the release of a study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution that evaluates the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) scientific principles used to justify policy decisions. Geren and Mica were joined by Cesar Conda, executive director of the de Tocqueville Institution and coauthors Dr. S. Fred Singer and Kent Jeffreys." [17]

"Press coverage included States News Service, Stephens Publishing and Cable Congress. Several congressional staffers also attended, copies of the Geren/Mica "Dear Colleague" letter, press release and the study are enclosed."

[18]

This report is part of a larger coordinated effort to blindside the EPA. A "panel of experts" was assembled to "peer-review" the report. Naturally the majority were people with identified links to tobacco-funded institutes and think tanks, and some who share the same small set of funders.

Academic Advisory Board:

Senior Staff and Contributing Associates
Rachael Applegate,   Bruce Bartlett,   Merrick Carey,   Cesar Conda,   Gregory Fossedal,   Dave Juday,   Felix Rouse,   Aaron Stevens

Ten of the 19 names of the Academic Advisory Board are members of the Cash for Comments Economists Network. At this time S. Fred Singer was a Senior Fellow at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, but they chose not to credit him with such close links.

These attempt to link the tobacco industry's problems to arguments about climate change were part funded by the Olin Foundation, Koch Family Foundations and Scaife Foundations.

  • 20 page Draft document sent to the Tobacco Institute [19]
  • The release about the final report (August 11 1994) It is now an attack on "environmental regulation" -- ETS, radon, pesticides and agricultural regulation, and the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program ... and based, supposedly, on the quality of the science used by the EPA. [20]
  • The final report was called Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination.' It had the approval of the Cash for Comments Economists Network. [21]

References

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