Humphrey campaign rivals criticize tobacco settlement

ST. PAUL (AP) — Two calculator-wielding gubernatorial candidates criticized state Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, saying Tuesday the settlement he negotiated with the tobacco industry doesn’t add up.
“The representation of the financial terms of the settlement was misleading,” said former state Auditor Mark Dayton, who is challenging Humphrey for the DFL gubernatorial nomination.
The agreement, announced Friday, requires the tobacco industry to pay Minnesota about $6.1 billion over 25 years. Because it has a been portrayed as a big victory for Humphrey, some other candidates were quick to weigh in either for the settlement or against it. The issue will be debated at least through the September primary.
Dayton took issue with the amount of the settlement. Because the industry will pay the state over 25 years, the value in today’s dollars is closer to $3.6 billion, he said.
“It’s good enough that it should have been represented fairly and accurately,” he said.
GOP candidate Allen Quist, who also held a news conference, calculated the present value at $2.7 billion.
Quist and Dayton consider the present value critical to measuring the attorney fees going to the Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi law firm.
They say the $466 million going to the lawyers represents 10 percent to 14 percent of the settlement, not 7 percent as Humphrey said.
“It’s a ripoff,” Quist said.
Dayton criticized the payment schedule, noting that the state’s private lawyers and co-plaintiff Blue Cross Blue Shield will receive all their money before the state does.
“It’s obvious that in this deal, the people get paid last,” he said.
Humphrey’s top aide Eric Johnson called the criticism “ridiculous” and an attempt to politicize the settlement.
“There’s lots of ways to play with the numbers,” he said. “Our deal is even stronger when you break it down to present value. Minnesota gets the biggest percentage earlier than any other state in the nation.”
Other candidates also criticized the deal.
Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura chastised Humphrey for not letting a jury decide the case.
“If there had been a jury verdict, that decision could have set a legal precedent,” Ventura said in a written statement.
GOP candidate Lt. Gov. Joanne Benson said a commission should be appointed to look into the questions raised by Quist and Dayton.
The state Republican Party will conduct a poll to find out what kind of impact the settlement will have on the campaign, GOP Chairman Bill Cooper said.
Several candidates expect Humphrey to get a political boost from the case, but few care to predict how long it will last.
Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, accused Humphrey of pursuing a “Rose Garden” strategy so far, using the tobacco case to avoid the main campaign issues.
“If you go into the coffee shops or bake shops in Minnesota, I don’t hear them talking about the tobacco settlement as a big issue,” he said.