Cultivating Influence: The 2008 Farm Bill Lobbying Frenzy

As Congress navigates its way through the 2012 Farm Bill process, Food & Water Watch today released a report that delineates the special interest lobbying efforts that shaped the 2008 Farm Bill. Food & Water Watch estimates that $173.5 million was spent by agribusinesses, commodity groups, food manufacturers and others to perpetuate policies that favor the largest food and agriculture industries. The public demand for broad-based reforms to the food system has been largely stymied by the special interest lobbying muscle that spent more than $500,000 a day during the 110th Congress.

The report, Cultivating Influence: 2008 The Farm Bill Lobbying Frenzy, finds that the 2008 Farm Bill was one of the most well-financed legislative fights of the past decade and breaks down the lobbying spending by more than 1,000 companies, trade associations and other groups.

“The public outcry for a healthier, more equitable food system has been muffled by the gusher of cash that special interests spent lobbying to shore up the Farm Bill status quo,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “As Congress lurches towards finalizing the 2012 Farm Bill under budgetary austerity, the lobbying juggernaut has only intensified.”

The sprawling legislation drew a host of legislative interests beyond agriculture including petrochemical companies and Wall Street as well as advocates for nutrition programs and international food aid. Other firms secured special tax giveaways or USDA funding in the 2008 Farm Bill—like the $180 million tax break for Weyerhaeuser or $126 million tax break for race horse industry.

Although most farm, agribusiness and food industry groups lobby on many provisions of the Farm Bill, their interests can vary widely. Crop and livestock buyers want to promote more production, which lowers prices, but family farmers want to ensure their economic survival if prices collapse. The analysis breaks down the lobbying effort based on industry sector and Farm Bill policy area.

“The agriculture lobby is not monolithic,” Hauter noted. “Farmers are often at loggerheads with agribusinesses and food manufacturers, and independent farm groups are wildly outspent by the grain traders and meatpackers.”

Key findings include:

  • An army of well-heeled insider lobbyists. Special interests hired at least 45 former members of Congress, more than 450 former congressional and executive branch staff, and nine of the top 10 K Street lobbying firms.
  • Half the lobbying ($85.8 million) targeted core farm policies. The largest portion of the lobbying money focused on the commodity programs, conservation programs, crop insurance, farm credit, specialty crops and livestock–the core farm policies in the Farm Bill. Commodity interests (including grain traders, commodity crop trade associations and commodity processors) spent an estimated $17.0 million; farm credit, crop insurance and equipment interests spent $12.0 million and food manufacturers spent $11.0 million.
  • Wall Street interests spent $10.8 million lobbying on commodity futures trading rules. The financial sector spent $4.1 million, commodities markets and futures traders spent $2.5 million and large commodity users (like oil companies and airlines) spent $4.3 million lobbying on Commodities Futures Trading Commission provisions that laid the groundwork for broader futures and derivatives reforms later incorporated into the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill.
  • Energy interests spent $23 million lobbying. Although many biofuels policies and programs were shifted to the 2007 energy bill, fossil fuel interests spent $7.1 million, ethanol interests spent $5.5 million, biodiesel interests spent $1.1 million and utilities spent $7.3 million.
  • Farm Bill lobbying battle ranks with health care and financial reform. Food & Water Watch’s $173.5 million estimate for lobbying on the 2008 Farm Bill makes it one of the most expensive legislative fights in recent memory, ranking amid the Center for Public Integrity’s $250 million lobbying estimate for the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and $120 million for health care reform.

“The only way we’re going to overcome the corporate half-a-million-dollar-a-day lobbying front is if a critical mass of concerned citizens join with like-minded farmers and independent legislators to build political power and take on the entrenched power of big agribusiness,” said Hauter.

The report can be downloaded here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/cultivating-influence/

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