President Obama is after another industry. In this case, he doesn’t want to take it over; he apparently wants to destroy it entirely, using a law never intended for that purpose.
Obama’s Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to revisit the 2006 conviction of the tobacco industry and tack on a fine — $280 billion, which experts think would bankrupt the companies.
At the same time, three tobacco companies are seeking to have the conviction overturned.
The Clinton administration filed the case in 1999 under a civil statute that was intended to be used against organized crime.
Nine tobacco companies and two trade organizations deceived the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and light cigarettes, and manipulated the nicotine levels in cigarettes, a federal judge ruled. The judge agreed to consider requiring the tobacco companies to give up profits if they lost the case, but was overruled by an appeals court.
Philip Morris contends the court penalized companies merely for exercising their free-speech rights to question some of the emerging science on tobacco and addiction.
The companies were found guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO (cleverly acronymed to form the first name of Edward G. Robinson’s character in the class movie “Public Enemy”). That law was enacted in 1970 for the purpose of giving law enforcement a way to attack the Mafia. Police claimed it was difficult to convict gangsters under existing criminal laws.
But in the 1980s, trial lawyers began finding language in the law that would allow them to attack corporations, and in a variety of other ways. Today it is rarely used against actual criminals but has become a major profit center for the trial bar.
Florida got into the game when the Florida Legislature stripped tobacco companies of a key defense in such cases, making it a slam-dunk for lawyers to extract billions from the companies and making several lawyers billionaires in the process. And for the state to share the profits of the tobacco industry.
A more straightforward method to destroy industries would be for politicians to simply declare their products – such as tobacco and asbestos – illegal and prohibit people from making them. But that would not enrich the government and lawyers.
Pam Geller at Atlas Shrugs has a suggestion. Why doesn’t the government file a RICO suit against ACORN? In some minds, ACORN is more of a criminal organization than the tobacco industry.
In fact, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has been investigating ACORN and found that ACORN and the labor union SEIU virtually are the same organization, sharing spaces and staff.
The congressional investigation has concluded: “ACORN is a single corrupt corporate enterprise composed of a series of holding companies and subsidiaries that are financially and operationally dependent upon the main corporation. . . . ACORN and SEIU’s illegal agreements, and the crimes committed in furtherance of these agreements, constitute a criminal conspiracy.”
Jacksonville’s state Sen. Tony Hill, for example, was simultaneously employed by SEIU and ACORN, the oversight committee said.
It might be fitting if the often-misused RICO law were used one more time against ACORN, as Geller suggested, and then abolished.