DeKalb anti-smoking lobbyingA national taxpayer watchdog has accused a local health department in Georgia of abusing federal grants to lobby for broader tobacco restrictions.

Cause of Action, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that investigates regulatory overreach, says it uncovered evidence that the Dekalb County Board of Health misappropriated funds made available through the Communities Putting Prevent to Work, a $373 million federal grant program, to underwrite overt political activities.

Grantees of the 2011 initiative, which is managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was designed as vehicle to educate the public about the dangers of obesity and tobacco, are not allowed under federal law to use the funds for lobbying activities.

But DeKalb’s public health department, along with six others across the country, violated that law when it advocated on behalf of a clean air indoor ordinance (CIAO) and a steeper excise tax on cigarettes, according to the new watchdog report.

The 19-months-long investigation revealed DeKalb officials had “partnered with the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention … to train coalition partners and finance a media campaign in support of state cigarette tax increase.”

The report also found evidence the department had conducted a focus group with local exotic dancers to determine support for an expanded indoor smoking ban.

The county’s grant proposal said it would it would use the funds to support smoke-free ordinances throughout the state.

That DeKalb’s application was approved despite federal regulations barring the use of congressionally-appropriated funds to influence government officials or the legislative process, the report said, “blatantly show systemic corruption” at the CDC.

A spokesperson for the DeKalb County Board of Health did not immediately respond to an inquiry Thursday by Tipsheet.

– James Richardson