Harris chief of staff Tina Flournoy fought to shield Big Tobacco from liability as Philip Morris exec: memos

Flournoy’s portfolio at Philip Morris included working to “kill” Medicaid liability bills as states sued tobacco companies for Medicaid costs incurred by patients who smoked cigarettes. Today, tobacco companies must pay $ 9 billion to state governments each year due to a 1998 legal settlement over the costs of tobacco-related ailments. 

KAMALA HARRIS STAFF CONTENDING WITH LOW MORALE, INTERNAL TENSIONS 

A 1996 memo from Flournoy, which is featured in the University of California, San Francisco’s Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library, laid out her “goals for 1996.”

“Work with USA to kill medicaid liability bills as they arise – at the moment, dealing with one in MD. Work with USA to prevent additional medicaid liability suits from being filed,” Flournoy wrote. “Work with the [Washington Relations Office] to continue to work on [legislation] at the federal level to fix the medicaid liability problem.” 

Another goal: repealing a 1994 Florida law that cleared the way for the state to sue tobacco companies. 

Tina Flournoy, Vice President Harris' chief of staff, worked to "kill" Medicaid liability bills while she was an executive at Philip Morris.

Tina Flournoy, Vice President Harris’ chief of staff, worked to “kill” Medicaid liability bills while she was an executive at Philip Morris. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Her memo also noted her goals of strengthening relationships between Phillip Morris and Democratic Party leaders. 

“Assist in planning the 96 Democratic convention. Maintain and strengthen relationships with Democratic party leaders and organizations,” Flournoy wrote.

Flournoy also focused on tort reform at the federal level to restrict consumer rights and helped Philip Morris coordinate with the Product Liability Coordinating Council and American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). 

“It was determined that a large component of the federal tort effort – as it is with the state tort effort – would be the communication plan. That plan will be orchestrated, in large part, through ATRA,” Flournoy wrote in a 1995 memo, which is also preserved in the UCSF library. 

The vice president’s office didn’t return an email asking if Harris was aware of the nature of Flournoy’s Philip Morris work when she offered her the chief of staff position. 

Groups, including the National Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco Prevention and National Tribal Tobacco Prevention Network, accused Philip Morris of targeting minority communities, including by funding groups like the NAACP, in a 2005 amicus curiae brief that cited a letter from the NAACP’s Elaine Jones to Flournoy.

“The Defendants also acted to win over African American organizations by giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars of tobacco money each year. The tobacco industry funded the fortieth anniversary gala of The United Negro College Fund as well as events by the NAACP, the Urban League and other organizations,” the brief reads.

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“We are very grateful for the help we have received from Philip Morris Companies over the years. It is because of companies like Philip Morris that we have been able to continue meeting the challenges to civil rights in the courts and in the communities across the country,” Jones wrote to Flournoy in the 1994 letter.

Jones asked for $ 50,000 for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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