American Civil Liberties Union

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The American Civil Liberties Union, commonly known as the ACLU, was founded in 1920 by a group of citizens which included Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Albert DeSilver. The ACLU describes itself as "our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."

Tha ACLU has been particularly active in cases involving the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments of the US Constitution. On the First Amendment, it tends to favor reduced restrictions on speech and greater separation of church and state. On the Fourth Amendment, it tends to favor increased protections on citizen's privacy; and on the Fifth and Eighth Amendment, it favors increased rights of the accused.

The ACLU is not particularly active in cases involving the Second or Tenth Amendments. It states that the Second Amendment is "primarily a collective right" to bear arms, not an individual one. It does not appear to have had much involvement with attempts to invoke the Tenth Amendment to limit the power of the federal government.


The ACLU has been strongly criticized by corporate accountability activists for using its resources to advance corporate claims to enjoy Bill of Rights protections. Its advocacy for the Nike Corporation in the Kasky vs Nike lawsuit is a recent example.

Tobacco Documents & TimeLine

Besides individual memberships, the ACLU has also taken or solicited funds from various organizations. Some anti-tobacco activists have criticized the organization for quietly taking funds from the tobacco industry. It was a major supporter of the tobacco industry's right to advertise cigarette, and it's chief lobbyist Barry W Lynn supported the industry under the guise of protecting their "Freedom of Speech". Another ACLU stalwart, Burton Neuborne, was the legal director who went over to run the tobacco Industry's Freedom to Advertise Coalition (FAC)

According to Lynn and Neuborne, a corporation had the same rights of speech as an American citizen -- except that the citizen was prohibited by law from advising people to engage in conduct that was likely to kill or seriously harm them. The famous Saturday Review editor, Norman Cousins resigned from the ACLU on the grounds that it was being funded to do the work of the tobacco industry.

In tobacco industry parlance the Freedom of Speech theme became the Freedom to Advertise Coalition (FAC) followed by a whole raft of other similar organisations (many from the newspaper and broadcasting world) willing to support them.

1986 Oct 9 A Tobacco Institute draft for William Kloepfer's speech/statements (He is head of the TI's Media/PR section).

This is a long document covering many different subjects.He lists three previous activities, then shows slides of recent achievements:

  • [Heading] Media successes in recent times.
    Fourth, targeted releases, out to the hinterlands.
  • One new vehicle is Tobacco Update, used for the first time this summer to notify some staff people at every newspaper with a ten-thousand-plus circulation of our summary views on the NAB aircraft cabin report.
  • Another vehicle is FYI, a good-looking article reprint format, which to date we've used to copy a couple of very good editorials on the ad-ban issue to some 1100 op-ed page managers and columnists. (Note: They were providing op-ed articles to magazines and newspapers in a high-gloss printer-proof format, so the article didn't need to be rekeyed or reset in type)
  • Here is Burt Neuborne's piece from the Washington Post;
  • this is Barry Lynn's article from the ACLU as it appeared in the LA Times.
  • A third vehicle is a straight news release. For example, a tailor-made statements (given to the media) in every State with a Ways and Means or Finance Committee member during the last days of debate on tax reform. (It was tailor-made for each state by:) estimating the statewide, regressive impact of any cigarette excise increase that might have remained in that legislation.

(The) Pickup was fine. UPI told New Yorkers (that) an eight-cent increase would cost them $141 million (in extra cigarette taxes). AP notified the people of Colorado they would be in for another $25 million. The story said minorities and the poor would be the biggest targets. [1]

Burton Neuborne, was a former legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who now ran the tobacco industry's Freedom to Advertise Coalition His associate (also from the ACLU) Barry W Lynn had joined him as a tobacco lobbyist.

1997 Joshua S Slavitt at Philip Morris (Senior Manager, Issues Planning) was handing out the generous company donations to both real and phantom think-tanks and institutes which supported the company and tobacco industry. Many millions of dollars were given to various think-tanks over the 1997 year with $300,000 for the Free Congress Foundation(which specifically lobbied for tobacco on advertising issues) and $75,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation which worked in close harmony with the FCF. [2]

Staff and Leaders

Accessed October 2007: [1]

Tobacco industry

Tobacco industry documents reveal that the industry considered ACLU to be an ally in fighting legislation and regulations to limit smoking. In a January, 1988 briefing to the Chair of the Institute by Samuel D. Chilcote, Jr., President of the Tobacco Institute, Chilcote described how the Institute successfully "defeated or postponed 93 percent of all the bills we faced [between 1979 and 1987]..." He also stated, "A very wide assortment of non-tobacco groups now routinely speak out on our behalf on every issue we face. They testify at hearings, write letters to legislators and to editors, hold press conferences, provide intelligence, help us expand our ranks, and some have even helped fund our efforts....Our allies include labor unions, farm groups, veterans and active military associations, racial and ethnic minorities, fire fighters, the ACLU..." [2]

Related SourceWatch resources


American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004


Other Related SourceWatch Resources

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