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New Hybrid PAC Tells Congress to Have a Cigar New Hybrid PAC Tells Congress to Have a Cigar

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New Hybrid PAC Tells Congress to Have a Cigar


Smoke curls around a cigar as a smoker enjoys a cigar at a shop in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, June 20, 2012. The Food and Drug Administration intends to regulate cigars under a 2009 law that gave it authority over the tobacco industry and cigar makers and aficionados are pushing to ensure their livelihoods and the products they enjoy. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

AP120620111639.jpgA group of cigar store owners who want to pass legislation to prevent federal regulations on premium stogies recently started a hybrid PAC and have raised a good chunk of cash, proving that even smaller players are getting hip to this cycle's newest fundraising tool.

Premium cigar retailers are pushing for the passage of H.R. 1639, which would prevent the FDA from using its discretion under the recent tobacco control law to regulate"premium" cigars, which are wrapped in leaf tobacco, lack a filter and weigh a certain amount. (Think fancy Cubans). There's a similar bill that's been introduced in the Senate. 

Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Florida cigar stores Corona Cigar, is the force behind the effort. He says that the premium cigar industry is made up primarily of small retail business owners who would be severely hurt by such regulation, and says the opposition is dominated by massive anti-tobacco groups.

"We feel like we're a liquor store that's open for business just before prohibition came around. We feel like we're on the cusp of that, unless Congress takes action," Borysiewicz says. "It's a very small industry and unfortunately we're having to deal with the federal government and get involved with politics."

And just how are they getting involved? By creating a hybrid PAC. A group of business owners formed the Puro PAC in December 2011.

Hybrid PACs are two-in-one deals. They are a combination of a traditional PAC that accepts money for candidates, and a super PAC that can take unlimited dollars to make independent expenditures and offset operating costs. 

Puro PAC is one of 43 hybrid PACs registered with the FEC, and it's already raised $247,159 this cycle and contributed to 42 House members and three senators -- about two-thirds of whom are Republicans. They've given $51,500 so far this cycle.

"Everybody that contributes to the PAC, these are individual business people that would much rather be putting their money into their families and businesses than into Washington, D.C.," Borysiewicz says.

Puro PAC has contributed $2,000 to Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Florida, who is the main sponsor of H.R. 1639. The bill has 208 cosponsors and is sitting in the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.

Borysiewicz argues that premium cigars aren't bought by children and smoking them is "a lifestyle choice." But it's not just anti-tobacco groups that oppose the bill. Domestic cigar manufacturers and sellers point out that most premium cigars are imported, so preventing restrictions on them puts domestic products on an uneven playing field.

"We understand this Congress is all about 'Make It In America,' and protecting American jobs, but they put domestic manufacturers at a distinct disadvantage if they exempt a majority of imported cigars [from regulations]," says Joe Augustus, senior vice president of external affairs for Swisher International, a major domestic cigar company that also exports products to other countries. 

So while Borysiewicz and other premium cigar retailers are busy ramping up support on the Hill for their cause, Augustus and others from the domestic cigar industry are meeting with consponsors of the proposed bills and "trying to get the facts out to them with what we believe is a more accurate assessment of the industry," Augustus says.

Swisher has a PAC, too, although they lag behind Puro's efforts. They've raised $140,015 this cycle and contributed $48,500 to eight House members and nine senators -- 90 percent of whom are Republicans.

Photo: Smoke curls around a cigar as a smoker enjoys a cigar at a shop in Richmond, Va., June 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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