Lobbying and money and the Hill

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U.S. Capitol

According to the website nationalcalendarday.com, April 12 was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, National Licorice Day, National Equal Pay Day, National Library Workers Day and National Big Wind Day. None of these “national” days are national. They are made up, mostly by groups or causes seeking free publicity.

That’s true even for that wonderfully Washington, D.C.-sounding “big wind” day. In the nation’s capital that day, in fact, the wind lightened as temperatures climbed to a spring-perfect 62 degrees. Outdoors, anyway.

Indoors, Washington — and especially Capitol Hill — was warmer and windier than usual as ag-related and ag-dependent groups overran Congressional offices and government agencies in waves of annual “fly-ins.”

Ag on the Hill

Indeed, so many ag groups were in town the week of April 10 that Congress needed a scorecard to track ’em. Tuesday brought the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau to the Hill. The next day, Wednesday, saw the cowboys of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association ride in.

Both groups crossed paths both days with some of Big Ag’s richest yakkers; the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (Monsanto, DuPont, BASF…), CropLife America (Bayer, Dow, Syngenta…), and the Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, or RISE, (Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer…) were all in town, too.

Hot topics

Why were so many of the same people in the same town at the same time vising the same folks? Mostly for the same two reasons.

First, House members finally returned from their Easter break. (What, you went back to work March 28, the day after the holiday? Not even the Senate did that; it returned April 4.) The House, however, eased into the legislative grind; it waited until 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, to reconvene.

And, second, the governed were informing the governing on what they want and don’t want from government.

Anymore, that transaction involves a great deal of time, many “constituents” and buckets of money. Big, big buckets of money.

Money talks

For example, as crop insurance became the key element of U.S. farm policy, the crop insurance industry became a key player in the Capitol Hill money game. In 2008, the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, its Washington lobbying group, spent $90,000 to lobby Congress. Last year, it spent almost four times that, $320,000.

The cowboys at NCBA know how to rope Congress, too. In the current 2016 election cycle, NCBA’s political action committee has raised $635,936 in campaign cash and donated $472,000 to Congressional officeholders.

If the past is any indicator, that rodeo is just getting started. In the 2014 general election, NCBA raised $948,200 and gave $866,600 to political candidates.

For the record, though, no one on either end of that supply chain claims anyone got — or will get — anything for the dough. In its benevolence, however, Congress did agree with NCBA to eliminate country-of-origin labeling for meat sold in the U.S. and not to audit the never-audited mandatory federal beef checkoff.

Bigger fish

The ranchers, and farmers and crop insurance agents, however, are country bumpkins in the Washington influence game compared to longtime players like Monsanto. In 2013 and 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Monsanto spent more than $11 million lobbying Congress (or, on average, about $25,000 per member) while dropping $571,000 into Congressional campaign coffers.

To be on the receiving end of that Capitol Hill cash, however, requires you get elected and in 2016, that’s going to cost plenty. Last November, Wells Fargo Securities estimated advertising spending alone in the upcoming 2016 presidential and Congressional races would top $6 billion, or $800 million more than in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Even for a system built on cash and driven by cash, $6 billion is lot of grilled cheese, licorice and wind just to get into the game.

Little wonder, then, that many Americans who will never fly in, drop in or cash in a Capitol Hill office or connection are moving toward either ends of the political spectrum — the Bern Man and the Trumpster — at the same time. All are in search of the same thing: change.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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