Va. (AP) A consumer activist organization founded by Ralph Nader
has filed articles of incorporation in Virginia for a company with the
stated purpose of making and selling tobacco products to kill
Licensed to Kill Inc. received its corporate certification from the Virginia State Corporation Commission on March 19. The company's documents list two officers: James Packard Love of Arlington and Robert C. Hinkley, a Brooklin, Maine, attorney and corporate activist.
Calls to Love's office were referred to John Richard in the Washington office of Essential Action, an activist group founded by Nader in 1982. Richard and Essential are listed as the administrators of Licensed to Kill's Web site, http://www.licensedtokill.biz/.
According to the SCC filing, Licensed to Kill was created expressly for "the manufacture and marketing of tobacco products in a way that each year kills over 400,000 Americans and 4.5 million other persons worldwide."
The Web site features a message purporting to be from Licensed to Kill's chairman and chief executive, "Rich Fromdeth," and touts the company's cigarette brands, including "Global Massacre" and "Genocide."
Anna White, a spokeswoman for Essential Action, said the group wanted to show how easy it is to incorporate a company in the U.S. and how the government has literally given corporations a license to do whatever they want, regardless of the threats to public health and safety."
White said the group could have received a corporate charter "in pretty much any state" but chose Virginia because it is home to Philip Morris USA, the world's largest cigarette manufacturer, and is generally viewed as a tobacco-friendly state. Philip Morris is a division of New York-based Altria Group.
Another corporate activist group, Massachusetts-based Infact a longtime critic of the tobacco industry issued a news release Thursday denouncing Virginia's granting of a corporate charter to Licensed to Kill.
Infact's release, which did not mention Essential's involvement in the charter application, called the incorporation "a clear demonstration of the need for major change in how corporations are established and allowed to operate in our society."
Patti Lynn, the group's press officer, said Infact was aware that another activist group was responsible for the filing but that "we didn't think that changed the issue."
"It still points to the fact that corporations are given far too free a rein" by regulatory agencies, she said.
State Corporation Commission spokeswoman Katha Treanor said the state had little choice but to grant the corporate charter.
As long as the application meets certain basic requirements, the proposed name isn't already used by another company and the applicant pays the filing fee, the state is required to accept it, she said. "A company doesn't even have to state a purpose."
If the company does state a purpose for its incorporation, Treanor said, the commission's charter examiners will look at it to make sure the purpose doesn't violate state law for example, by proposing to do business in extortion or prostitution. However, in the case of Licensed to Kill, she noted, the company's stated purpose of making tobacco products takes it out of state jurisdiction and puts it under federal regulation.
Treanor said the company's name "did draw our attention," but when the clerk's office checked with the filer, "they were told it was going to be a fragrance company."
Hinkley, a former corporate attorney in New York who filed the application, said he was unaware of any questions raised by the SCC and that under state law "the State Corporation Commission has no choice" except to grant the application, no matter what purpose the filer might claim.
That, Hinkley said, is the problem that led him to get involved in the issue in the first place.
"What I see as being fundamentally wrong is that state law in every state of the union dedicates the corporation strictly to profit without regard for public health or safety," he said. "My objective here is to change the law so that the pursuit of corporate profit doesn't abuse the public."
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.
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