Influencing Government:Food Lobbies and lobbyists From Food Politics: How the Industry Influences Nutrition and Health Marion Nestle
Goal • To understand how food companies are able to exert disproportionate influence on government agricultural and nutritional policy
What is lobbying? • Any legal attempt by individuals or groups to influence government policy or action • Promoting views of special-interest groups • Attempting to influence government laws, rules or policies that might affect those groups • Communicating with government officials or their representatives about laws, rules, or policies of interest
That is nice…but what do lobbyists do? • Provide federal officials with well-researched technical advice about proposed legislation, regulation, and public education. • Establish personal contacts through meetings and social occasions • Arrange campaign contributions • Stage media events • Organize public demonstrations • Harass critics • Encourage lawsuits
Lobbying Regulation (or lack thereof) • 1787—James Madison concerned about “mischiefs” caused by special-interest groups • 1911—lobbying made legal. Lobbyists must register and disclose sources of funds. • BUT Unenforceable • 1995 –lobbyists defined as people who spend at least 20% of their time lobbying, have contact with government officials or staff, and are paid more than $5,000 in a six month period for this work. • BUT all three criteria had to be met
Gifts from Lobbyists • In 1995, House rules: • barred lobbyists from buying meals for members or aides (with an exception) • small gift items still acceptable. • Senate rules: • cannot accept paid travel to recreational events • or gifts and meals worth more than $100 from any one individual in a year In 1998, an estimated $1.42 billion spent on lobbying… Each of the 100 senators and 435 representatives contacted by 38 paid lobbyists spending $2.7 million on each legislator to do so.
The “Agricultural Establishment” • After WWII food producers, USDA officials and members of the House and Senate Agricultural Committees closely united • 1970s—system begins to break down as new constituencies demanded influence • Consumers • Large processing and marketing companies • Advocates for the poor
Response? • In 1970s Congress expanded jurisdiction of agricultural committees • Not only: agricultural production, marketing, research and development • But also: rural development, forestry, domestic food assistance, aspects of foreign trade, international relations, market regulation, taxes, and nutrition advice to public. • Resulted in huge upswing in lobbying activities
The Expanding Food Lobby • 1950s—25 groups of food producers dominate agricultural lobbying • Mid-1980s –84 groups • Late-1990s—1000s of groups, including businesses, associations, law firms, and individuals
Undue Influence • Frequent job exchanges between lobbyists and federal officials (revolving door) • Transfer of funds from lobbyists to federal officials through donations of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ money as well as gifts
Revolving door • Job exchanges between lobbyists and USDA, FDA common • The curious case of Mr. Taylor • Presents dilemma: • Valuable expertise or conflict of interest?
Funding Elected Officials • “Hard Money” • Governed by legislation (Election Campaign Act) • Limits amount of individual contribution to $1000 and PACs to $5000 • Does not restrict number of candidates, nor number of PACs to which individuals may contribute • Political Action Committees (PACs) • Collect “voluntary” contributions from members for donation to political campaigns • Most do not contribute equally to parties (Republicans receive more) • Funds go where they will benefit the donors (House and Senate Agriculture committees)
More Funding for Elected Officials • “Soft Money” • Election Campaign Act only restricts contributions for federal elections, neglecting to mention state and national political organizations. • This loophole allows contributions to support campaigns indirectly, come from any source, be in any amount, and do not need to be disclosed. • In the ‘97/98 election cycle agribusiness corporations made soft-money donations of $1.3 million to Democrats and $1.4 million to Republicans
Buying Influence? • Research suggests a strong correlation between contributions and desired outcomes • Case study: Sugar • Largest contributions from sugar PACs went to members who voted for subsidies; the larger the PAC contribution, the more likely members were to support industry positions • In 1991 42% of sugar subsidies went to 1% of growers • Fanjul Family • Controls 1/3 of Florida’s sugar-cane production • Collects $60 million annually in subsidies • Contributed more than $350,000 to political parties in ‘97/98 • Political Influence: As seen in the Starr Report
Bottom Line • The job of food lobbyists: • Ensure that the government does nothing to impede clients from selling more of their products • Do as much as possible to create a supportive sales environment