THINKS HE'S FOUND PROBLEM'S ROOT; MYSTERY: A CONGRESSMAN TRIED TO EMBARRASS
THE LAW PROFESSOR AT A HEARING ON TOBACCO LEGISLATION
Los Angeles Times [11/7/96]
George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf always wondered who put the bug in Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr.'s ear years ago when the Republican from Virginia tried to embarrass him at a public hearing on a piece of tobacco legislation.
Now Banzhaf thinks he knows.
The story begins in 1985, when a high-ranking Philip Morris executive wrote a memo that suggested an effort be made to tie Banzhaf to the pornography industry.
According to the nine-page memo, recently disclosed in tobacco litigation, Banzhaf "is alleged to be involved in the porno industry. Can't we use this somehow?"
Banzhaf headed--and still heads--Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking group.
Fast forward to a congressional hearing in 1986 when Bliley--the former mayor of Richmond, Va., where Philip Morris is a huge employer--started grilling Banzhaf on a proposed bill to restrict cigarette advertising.
"Mr. Banzhaf, are you or were you a director of the Foundation for Unrestricted Carnal Knowledge?" Bliley asked, according to a hearing transcript.
"No sir," Banzhaf replied. "I am not now nor have I ever been the director of the Foundation for Unrestricted Carnal Knowledge, which is sometimes known by its acronym."
Banzhaf explained that the provocatively named foundation was the brainchild of college journalists at his school who enjoyed writing spoofs about professors. Banzhaf had written a pair of florid editorials for two college papers defending pornography on 1st Amendment grounds. As a joke, the students added a credit line naming him head of the mythical foundation.
But Bliley persisted, declaring his intent to put Banzhaf's editorials in the hearing record.
"Mr. Banzhaf, you are identified at the end of your own editorial as a director of the Foundation for Unrestricted Carnal Knowledge," Bliley said.
When Banzhaf could not convince Bliley that the whole thing was a joke, the college professor sent Bliley other bogus student writings and a tongue-in-cheek letter. Referring to the articles one by one, Banzhaf stated categorically that he had never "wrestled under the name 'Banzhaf Beefcake,' " had never been awarded the "Bat Masterson Chair of Legal Debating" and had never held the "P.T. Barnum Chair of Scholarly Discourse."
In a recent telephone interview, Banzhaf said that it was "foolishness" for Bliley to raise the issue of the fictitious foundation in a public hearing without even checking its authenticity. But Banzhaf--who filed the Fairness Doctrine challenge in the 1960s that ultimately forced cigarette ads off the airwaves--said the experience left him more amused than angry.
And Banzhaf said he finally put all the pieces together last month when a Times reporter showed him the Philip Morris memo. His reaction: "I almost fell off my chair laughing."
He added, more seriously: "It seems to me very clearly that somebody carried out the suggestion . . . and passed this . . . alleged 'porno connection' . . . on to Bliley so that he could exploit it suddenly and without warning at a hearing."
But Philip Morris executives said they do not believe the company fed Bliley the information.
"We haven't found anybody who knows what this is about," said Michael York, an attorney and spokesman for Philip Morris. "No one has any memory of that."
Bliley, now chairman of the House Commerce Committee, got the editorials from a staff member who no longer works for him, said Bliley aide Mike Collins.
According to Collins, Bliley does not know where the staff member got the information.
The memo was supposed to be a "discussion document used at the meeting of top management," according to the cover sheet. But York said he did not know who wrote it or who attended the meeting.
The document, obtained by plaintiffs' lawyers in tobacco litigation in Minnesota and Mississippi, dwelt more on ways to resurrect the industry's image than on trashing its foes.
"Other groups such as the National Rifle Assn. have been highly successful at protecting a seemingly impossible cause," the memo said.
"Homosexuals have made enormous progress in changing their image in this country in the last couple of decades," it went on. "A few years back they were considered damaging, bad and immoral, but today they have become acceptable members of society.
"There must be a considerable body of social science in existence which could tell us how a group such as the homosexual movement has been able to change its public image so dramatically," the memo said. "We should research this material and perhaps learn from it."
LINKED TO SEX ORGANIZATION?
National Law Journal [9/1/86]
TAKING ON THE cigarette industry can be a tough task, as Prof. John F. Banzhaf III of the George Washington University National Law Center knows.
But even Professor Banzhaf, a legal activist who recently testified before the House subcommittee on Health and the Environment that a proposed ban on cigarette advertising would be constitutional, was surprised when his credibility was attacked in a most curious way: Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va., asked if he ever had been the director of an organization known as the Foundation for Unrestricted Carnal Knowledge.
While the professor has formed several public interest organizations with clever acronyms, some of which he has used to file lawsuits against the cigarette industry, the organization in question never existed and was mentioned in a university newspaper article as a joke -- one of many recent lampoons of the professor.
According to the article, the organization had received a grant to do research to determine whether non-smokers make better lovers.
Despite being informed that the article was a joke, Representative Bliley insisted on entering the professor's alleged affiliation into the record.
"Frequently student newspapers don't make a sharp distinction" between serious articles and parodies, said Professor Banzhaf. "On campus, we take it all in stride. I'm amazed someone was silly enough to believe it."
"I didn't have any reason to doubt it," replied the congressman when reached by phone at his Richmond, Va., office.
Representative Bliley said his line of questioning was meant to point out what he sees as the "apparent inconsistency" in the professor's views. Professor Banzhaf has stated that non-obscene pornograph materials are protected by the First Amendment but commercial speech in the form of cigarette advertisements is accorded only limited protection and may be banned.
Representative Bliley, whose district is a center of the tobacco industry, consistently has taken a pro-tobacco point of view. He explained: "To me, it's somewhat incredible that you would argue pornography, which many people find offensive, would have unrestricted First Amendment rights, but [manufacturers of] lawful products would not."
Professor Banzhaf has formed some of his organizations through a course on legal activism that he has taught for the past 15 years. As part of the course, students must bring a legal action that attempts to further the public good. (NLJ, 6-15-81.)
One of Professor Banzhaf's more cleverly named groups is CRASH, Citizens to Restrict Airline Smoking Hazards, which filed a petition leading to no-smoking sections in aircraft. He continues to serve as executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a public interest law firm he founded in 1986.
And Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP) helped establish the doctrine that public interest groups have standing to sue in environmental cases.
Concluded Professor Banzhaf: "Many professors are reluctant to testify because they are afraid of sharp questions. If guys like Bliley can get away with things like this, it may discourage less outgoing professors from testifying. But I'm treating the whole thing as a joke."