Powell Tate

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

Powell Tate is a well-known Washington DC-based lobbying, communications and public affairs firm. It specializes both in the conventional work of running public affairs programs and in media relations, but it also engages in grassroots (hidden or fake) operations and in surreptitious lobbying of politicians and their key minders.

It was founded by Jody Powell, ex Press Secretary to the Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and from the Republican White House, Sheila Tate, (Nancy Reagan's adviser). For most of this time it had as its major client, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

In mid-1996 the fake ‘grassroots science’ organisation known as The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) was partly-exposed as being funded by Philip Morris. So the operation, together with Steve Milloy, who ran both the TASSC organisation and its junkscience.com web-site [1] were transferred to the control of Reynolds [2] so that Philip Morris could deny involvement.

Reynolds subcontracted the administration of this "sound-science" operation to the Powell-Tate lobby shop, and during this time, RJR and Powell-Tate also jointly handled the promotion and distribution of Milloy's book Science without Sense, which was supposedly published by the Cato Institute (itself part-funded by tobacco interests). [3] [4]

Powell-Tate also handled part of the "Project Breakthrough" program for Reynolds. This was a joint Philip Morris/RJ Reynolds scare-campaign using public relation and blanket advertising to attack the anti-smoking movement by relating it to the crime and corruption of prohibition. It was headed by Tom Griscom for RJR and Steve Parrish for PM, and it got underway in March 1994.[5][6] In tobacco industry and PR parlance, this project use what is often called the ‘slippery-slope’ argument ... "any sort of limitation on corporate freedoms will inevitably lead to Mafia-like corruption and break-down of the society."

Also part of the campaign was a pre-emptive plan, handled by Powell-Tate, to block legislation limiting advertising of cigarettes to children and teenagers, by running a 'information program on smoking' in schools. [7] The essential message was: "Only grown-ups should smoke, so you shouldn't smoke until you are grown-up."

As any psychologist will tell you, this is a highly attractive message for rebellious adolescents, anxious about their masculinity (or femininity) or keen to exaggerate their age and sophistication. They inevitably reverse the logic and read it as: "If I smoke, I’m grown-up and sophisticated."

It comes over as a 'dare'.

Many educationalists were too unsophisticated to see the real intent behind the program, and just accepted the posters, videos, and pamphlets as an altruistic gesture.

The company also ran Project Recipe for the joint tobacco industry. This was a plan to disrupt the Congressional inquiry into the ingredients in tobacco[8] mainly promoted by Congressman Waxman.

Tobacco has many flavours, stabilizers, and other chemicals and products added before it becomes a cigarette, and many of these ingredients had never been tested for carcinogenic safety. As it did with pesticide testing, the industry fought a long battle (over decades) to block the forced disclosure of what went into a cigarette (and therefore into the smoke). One ploy was to confuse the issue about ingested-safety (how dangerous it was if swallowed) and the potential problem from combustion products of the ingredient or additive.

Later, well after the US government’s Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the tobacco companies (which prohibited this sort of conduct), Powell-Tate continued working for the Lorillard Tobacco Company on the youth-smoking issue (the most vulnerable part of the cigarette company’s defence). It was also trying to exploit relationships by targeting key Congressmen and preparing both a ghosted-print-media blitz and video 'corporate-type' advertisements (mainly corporate and ideological advertising since TV broadcast of cigarette ads is banned) which kept its name in front of the viewer. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

Powell-Tate itself tended to do the direct lobbying of Congressional leaders for the Cassidy Group, which sub-contracted its hidden grassroots lobbying to Beckel-Cowan, run by the former Monsdale-campaign manager Bob Beckel, and partner Glenn Cowan. See Page 9 [14]

In December 1998, Fortune magazine's "The Power of 25: the influence merchants" article gave ex-Reynolds Senior VP for External Communications, Tom Griscom credit (among dozens of other ex-White House Staff, ex-politicians and sons-of-politicians) as a key lobbyist in Washington. He had been Director of Communications for President Ronald Reagan, but at this time he was working with the Powell-Tate lobby shop. [15]

The company still maintains it political lobbying strengths through the employment of White House aides and insiders in the main political parties.

In January 2007 the company announced that Nicolle Wallace, former Bush White House Communications Director, has joined the firm; prior to the White House appointment, she had served as Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Press Secretary. [16] The release says she would "continue at CBS, where she currently works as a political consultant. Wallace provided on-air analysis for CBS’ election night special on November 7, 2006, and appears regularly on CBS Evening News and The Early Show."

In the past few years these firms have been merging and consolidating into a couple of global operations. Powell-Tate was initially taken over by the Cassidy operation, and then it became part of Weber Shandwick (which was itself a merged entity). Shandwick International, one of the largest PR companies in the nation had been bought by Interpublic in 1998, and it had then acquired Cassidy in 1999. Powell, became chairman and CEO of Shandwick's public relations operation.[17]

Powell said he made the move to Cassidy to avoid becoming submerged as part of the WPP Group conglomerate. [18], but shortly after Shandwick was swallowed up by the InterPublic group, which, in size, was only marginally behind WPP and Omincom (in global coverage terms). Interpublic also owned the "the world's largest and most geographically extensive advertising agency network," McCann Erickson Worldwide.

Most of the tobacco-support companies (PR, lobbying, advertising, legal-lobbyists) had joined WPP under ex-Philip Morris CEO Hamish Maxwell, so Powell-Tate became almost the 'odd-man-out'. However by April 2003 the Interpublic Group comprised around fifty companies, and Weber Shandwick Worldwide was the world's largest PR company.

Contact details

700 Thirteenth Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20005
United States
Phone: 202-383-9700
Email: info AT powelltate.com
Web: http://www.powelltate.com

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