The facts, numbers jumble: Go figure


One of life’s confounding mysteries is how identical facts and figures often lead people to draw diametrically different conclusions.

Federal campaign finance reform offers a timely example.

When passed, reformists, mainly Democrats, claimed the elimination of soft money and the doubling of the $1,000 maximum personal contribution to candidates would allow voters to reassert their influence on elections and slow the vast rivers of corporate and special interest cash flowing into campaign coffers.

Those who opposed the new law, mostly Republicans, labeled the reforms a threat to democracy. They forcefully defended their right to raise and spend as much campaign cash as possible in any manner possible.

They even took the reform law to the Supreme Court – and lost.

Now, eight months before the 2004 general election, it turns out that neither view was even remotely right.

The doubling of the personal contribution level simply gave the wealthy 1 million or so Americans who religiously hit the $1,000 donation limit in previous elections twice the influence they had before.

Is it any surprise then that those wealthy contributors are in little danger of losing their enormous 2001 tax cuts?

Campaign cash. Far from being hurt by the soft money ban, Republicans have raised so much campaign cash this election cycle that they hardly know what to do with it all. Indeed, from last June through this March, President Bush raked in $159 million for his re-election bid. That’s an average of $590,000 per day.

Reform? It’s laughable to even suggest it.

Reforming vs. abandoning. Here’s another laugher. Agricore United, Canada’s largest grain company, is now in the process of reforming – actually abandoning – its long-held support of the Canadian Wheat Board, that nation’s monopoly grain exporter.

In early February, AU’s farmer-delegates voted to eliminate the CWB’s “central desk” for exports and ask Ottawa for a producer referendum on the board’s future.

Just last year, AU’s delegates voted 3-to-1 to stay out of the CWB debate.

‘Fast flip-flop.’ The fast flip-flop came about for two reasons and both will have lasting consequences.

First, according published accounts in the Manitoba Co-operator, the CWB lost $85.4 million (Canadian) in its 2002-03 wheat pooling account. (Gee, this is the globe-spanning titan feared by American farmers?)

AU believes they can do better if unhitched from the monopoly seller. Others strongly disagree.

The second, and vastly under-reported, fact is the influence American grain giant Archer Daniels Midland has had on the Wheat Board debate since ADM bailed out one of AU’s cashed-strapped predecessors in the late 1990s.

Since then, the co-op has merged, dissolved and reformed as a public stock company while ADM’s ownership interest has grown to 23 percent and AU’s support for the Wheat Board has dropped to 0 percent. Coincidence?

Hardly. If the farmer-delegates at Agricore think they will stay warmer and get wealthier by substituting one near-monopoly, ADM, for another full monopoly, the CWB, they need to ask themselves a simple question: How has their partnership with ADM worked out so far?

Taking a look. In 2002-03, Agricore lost $2.4 million and saw it share price plunge to $3.50 from $12 in late 2001. Shares now trade near $8.50.

If you want a real hoot, get a load of the American Soybean Association’s reaction to the news that Murphy-Brown LLC, Smithfield Foods’ 825,000-sow multistate monster hog factory, would import 200,000 metric tons of Brazilian soybean meal this summer.

“The only way we can protect our livestock base is to import meal,” Ron Heck, ASA president, “regrettably” told DTN March 12.

“It’s in the best interest of U.S. soybean farmers to protect our livestock base so they will buy our 2004 crop.”

Outsource. What base? A handful of global pork powerhouses whose only loyalty is to the bottom line? Heck should know that if the big pig boys can outsource their feed, they can also outsource their production.

And they will if farm groups continue to draw the wrong conclusions from simple facts and figures.

It’s not their job to protect ADM or Smithfield. It’s their job to protect farmers and ranchers from the ADMs and Smithfields.

And they’re bungling it by bowing to them.

(The author is a freelance ag journalist who lives in Delavan, Ill. He can be reached via e-mail at: Read his columns online at

© 2004 ag comm


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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.