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Huffington Post Criticism Draws Mixed Response from Cigar Industry and Government

Earlier this week we reported on the Huffington Post’s exposé of the Congressional Cigar Association. It appeared there were inherent ethical violations in the private gathering of lobbyists, public officials and Hill staffers.

Today, Sign On San Diego brings us comments from Rocky Patel and Rep. Brian Bibray, who were both instrumental in the formation of the CCA. Patel insists that his own involvement was motivated by self-preservation, and indeed preservation of the entire cigar industry.

“The reason it was sponsored by the congressman from California is because he understands we are an industry that is being put out of existence,” Patel told the San Diego news outlet.

As we’ve said before, desperate times call for desperate measures. Amidst the smoking bans and tax increases, Rocky and the rest of the industry have a huge political battle on their hands. This diplomatic approach is headed in the right direction for cigar manufacturers. As for the politicians who participated in the CCA gatherings, they may be headed down a much more uncertain path.

The public outcry is over what the American public perceives as “back room politics” going on at events such as those thrown by the Congressional Cigar Association. Lobbyists helped front the bill for a Captiol Hill power player party and no doubt gained special access to promote their special interest agendas. Are we to believe that when lobbyists and government officialls get together, they don’t talk about work?

“I would be surprised if there was any ethics problem,” commented Rep. Bibray, saying that any lobbying that went on at the parties would stick out “like a sore thumb”. I think he meant to downplay the idea of lobbying going on at these events, but his ludicrous response is the only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

Politics, for the most part, are organized out of view from the public, away from the Capitol. Any politician who’s being candid with you will admit that politics is built on personal relationships, and you can’t really get that personal when you’re at work. To them, the idea that back room meetings are unethical is laughable — it’s the only place where things get done.

We think the American people could use a lot more transparency on the intersection of corporate interests and the government. In this case, the cigar industry’s “special interest” is survival, no suprise given the strong government opposition to the industry in the form of taxes and regualtions. They must and will continue to do whatever they have to do to keep the cigar market alive.

To the larger corporations and the government officials who depend on the American people for their success, we need to send strong message: It’s time to be straight with the public. Today’s media passes information instantaneously, and hypocricy will be exposed.