Tobacco money fuels gay Republicans, business organizations

Democratic nonprofit, Koch-backed powerhouse among other Reynolds American beneficiaries

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The flagship nonprofit of Charles and David Koch’s political network.

A group that’s been called “a secretly funded arm” of New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez’s re-election campaign.

The nation’s largest GOP organization devoted to gays and lesbians.

What do they have in common?

All received financial support from tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc. in 2013, according to a document released by the company and reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

The North Carolina-based company donated $4,000 to the Koch-supported Americans for Prosperity last year, the document indicates, while it gave $11,000 to the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans and $10,000 to New Mexico Competes, a conservative advocacy group whose first executive director was a former deputy cabinet secretary in the Martinez administration.

Reynolds American ranks among a growing number of companies that voluntarily disclose information about their contributions to politically active nonprofits, including “social welfare” organizations registered under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the tax code and trade associations created under Sec. 501(c)(6).

In all, the company contributed at least $550,000 last year to trade associations, such as the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Tobacco Outlets and the Bodega Association of the United States.

Of that sum, about $200,000 was used by the trade groups on lobbying activities or other political expenses that the company cannot deduct on its taxes.

The document also indicates that Reynolds American gave more than $400,000 to other politically active nonprofits last year. The largest was a payment of about $213,000 to a nonprofit called Save Our Stores, a coalition that lobbied against tobacco regulations proposed in 2013 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City.

Other notable Reynolds American payments included $60,000 to a Wisconsin-based nonprofit called the Jobs First Coalition, which has backed Republicans in state-level elections; $50,000 to the Renew North Carolina Foundation, an organization formed by allies of the state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory; and $50,000 to Keep Texas Working, a pro-business group headed by lobbyist Luke Bellsnyder.

"Contributions are made in line with our business interests," said Reynolds American spokeswoman Jane Seccombe.

On its website, Reynolds American states that it contributes to politically active nonprofits because its products are “sold, taxed and regulated in all 50 U.S. states” and its activities can be affected by “laws and regulations that impact the business climate generally, as well as those that specifically govern the manufacture and sale of tobacco products.”

While most of the social welfare nonprofits listed as beneficiaries of Reynolds American’s financial largesse in 2013 leaned conservative, one group is run by Democrats: the Michigan Quality of Life Fund.

Democratic state Rep. Brandon Dillon serves as the nonprofit’s president, while state Rep. Sam Singh serves as its vice president. The group helps Democrats by hosting trainings, “community forums” and “leadership retreats” for “community leaders, activists and students,” according to federal tax filings.

The Michigan Quality of Life Fund has also received financial support from companies such as Aetna and CVS Caremark, as the Center for Public Integrity has previously reported.

During 2012, Reynolds American donated $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity, which spent heavily against Democrats that year.

This election cycle, the conservative group has continued to assail vulnerable Democrats, including North Carolina’s incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, who is seeking re-election to a second term this November.