GOP Whip Tried To Aid Tobacco Pals

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt is coming under fire for trying to help tobacco giant Philip Morris USA in last November's homeland security bill.

The Washington Post reports that just days after he was named to the House's third-highest leadership post, Blunt - who has close personal and political ties to Phillip Morris – tried to slip a pro-tobacco provision into the bill creating the new Department of Homeland Security.

When Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., found out about Blunt's idea, he immediately yanked it out of the bill. Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Tex., also said he opposed Blunt's effort and "worked against it" when he found out about it.

Several Republicans told the Post they felt a pro-tobacco provision had very little support and that Blunt's actions could have proven "embarrassing" to the party and its new Whip.

Blunt's ties to the company include large campaign donations from the company - $150,000 since 2001 to committees affiliated with Blunt. His son, Andrew, also works as a lobbyist for Philip Morris back in his home state of Missouri.

Some Republicans also expressed concern that Blunt's close personal relationship with a Phillip Morris lobbyist named Abigail Perlman may have influenced his actions.

Blunt would not discuss their relationship, telling the Post, "I am just going to talk about policy here."

Blunt said the provision, which would have made it more difficult to sell tobacco over the Internet and would have initiated an effort to stop the sale of contraband cigarettes, was "good policy." He said it was relevant to the homeland security bill because of reports that some terrorist organizations were using sales of contraband cigarettes to support their activities.

Blunt likened it to a highly controversial last-minute provision that was slipped into the bill that limited the liability of the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company regarding vaccine side effects. That provision was later discovered and Republicans agreed to rescind it.