April 10, 2012

Let’s Face It: Federal Money Being Used To Lobby Saint Louis County

I do not smoke. But I am curious about radio ads that are advocating for stronger anti-smoking laws in Saint Louis County. The ads, which come from a group called Let’s Face It, are creative – and alarming. Consider this line from one of the ads:

There are still workplaces in St. Louis County that legally allow smoking. . . . let’s truly eliminate second-hand smoke in the workplace. It’s better for all of us.

Saint Louis County recently passed an expansive anti-smoking ordinancethe law includes exemptions for bars and casinos. The owners of those establishments felt that if smoking was not permitted, they would go out of business. I attended one of the hearings when the Saint Louis County Council was considering the partial ban. Several bar and restaurant owners told officials they feared their businesses would close or they would have to lay off employees if customers were not allowed to smoke.

Well, it turns out that more than $7.5 million in federal stimulus money is funding those radio ads and advocacy efforts to eliminate exemptions. According to the Recovery.gov website, federal stimulus money has gone to Let’s Face It’s anti-exemption campaign. In its report to the federal government, Let’s Face It noted that it hopes to “place amendment on council agenda,” “remove exemptions from current ordinance,” and  ”increase the number of County municipalities that enact smokefree [sic] policies that exceed the comprehensive County-wide policy. . .”

The group has also partnered with the St. Louis Rams, and ran anti-smoking advertisements during the Rams’ Dec. 18, 2011, home game. In its report to the federal government, Let’s Face It claims to have created 38.16 jobs associated with this campaign. Some of those jobs are associated with $2 million that went to Fleishman-Hillard (four jobs) and $175,000 that went to the St. Louis Cardinals (actually, no jobs are claimed to be created with the money directed to the Cardinals).

The Show-Me Institute has made the case that customers (and employees) have the freedom to choose what bars and restaurants they frequent. The argument that customers or employees are somehow trapped at a venue that allows smoking is a smokescreen, at best.

But federal funding of advocacy efforts goes even further. If the anti-second-hand smoking argument is a good one, then why aren’t private associations and nonprofits stepping up to make the case? Why does the federal government have to fund an advocacy campaign?

What is next, Fannie Mae funding an organization that advocates for land banking legislation? Or federal stimulus money being used to fund similar advocacy campaigns throughout the United States against soda?

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