HELENA - Two of America’s biggest tobacco companies have already spent nearly $854,000 to oppose a Montana ballot initiative that would raise state tobacco taxes and extend government-funded health coverage for thousands of low-income Montanans.
Altria Client Services – formerly known as Philip Morris – and RAI Services, or Reynolds American Inc., filed their initial campaign reports this week, for spending against Initiative 185.
Altria said it had spent almost $673,000 through June 26, while RAI reported spending about $181,000, on consulting, research, focus groups and polling.
Much of the money has been routed through Montanans Against Tax Hikes, the ballot committee formed to defeat I-185.
I-185 would raise state taxes on cigarettes to $3.70 per pack, a $2-per-pack increase, and by 33 percent on smokeless tobacco. It also would impose taxes on electronic cigarette and vaping supplies.
The measure has yet to officially qualify for the November ballot, but supporters said two weeks ago that they submitted to election officials more than 40,000 signatures of registered voters by a June 22 deadline – about 15,000 more than needed to qualify.
I-185 also would permanently extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, which provides government-funded health coverage to about 96,000 low-income Montanans.
Supporters of I-185 have raised and spent big money on their campaign as well.
This week, they reported raising and spending about $254,000 during the month of June, bringing their total to $932,000.
Most of that money was spent on efforts to qualify I-185 for the November ballot.
The initiative’s biggest supporters are hospitals and MHA, the state’s hospital lobby, which together have spent about $290,000 on the effort. Other big contributors to the pro-I-185 cause include Families USA, a national health-care reform group, which gave $100,000, and the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network, which has spent $130,000.
Organized labor, health-care and low-income groups also have contributed to the I-185 campaign.
State elections officials will certify later this month whether I-185 will appear on the November ballot.