Many people are asking just when profits and political activism became bad things. Simplistically, I would argue it happened the day it was someone else’s profits, or someone who held a view contrary to our own.

Realistically, I have to believe it says something about the eroding of our society and a new kind of intolerance. It’s intolerance not based on race or religion as much as just based on one’s world view.

Following the letter (see it at library.constantcontact.com) sent last week by 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to USDA calling for a thorough economic analysis of the proposed GIPSA rule, I started to receive emails implying that all one had to do was follow the money and that these politicians were essentially purchased by the omnipresent Satan. That Satan, of course, is corporate agriculture and multi-national packers.

The emails followed up with a detailed listing of the amount of campaign contributions each of the signatories had received from agricultural interests. Not surprisingly, the leadership of the House Ag Committee received more than $1 million, while others received about 20% of that or less. Other emails I received also detailed donations made by political action committees (PAC) of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), noting that many of the beneficiaries signed the letter.

The initial impact when one sees dollar amounts of this size is relatively effective. Of course, when one starts to look at the numbers, the only lesson becomes just how little money agriculture spends on supporting its candidates. Not surprisingly, the members from big ag districts tend to receive more dollars from agriculture than members from non-ag districts. Details like comparing contributions made by other industries and activist groups, which make agricultural contributions look insignificant, just clutters up the case for conspiracy theorists. How dare a representative vote on an industry issue according to the desires of his/her constituency!

Then, of course, there’s the issue of PAC donations, the most common donation was $1,000. Do you realize how much influence $1,000 buys you with a congressman? It doesn’t hurt, but trust me, it takes far more dollars than that to buy votes; just ask the unions, environmental groups or the auto, insurance and energy industries. Either ag doesn’t have much pull, or we’re just able to get a whole lot more bang for our buck.

These numbers also lump grain production and livestock production into the same category. Certainly, they have common interests in some areas, but donations from the grain side dwarf donations on the livestock side. And, in recent years, these two ag sectors are far more likely to be on totally opposite sides of the issues (ethanol subsidies is one that comes to mind).

Truth is, the great conspiracy simply doesn’t exist, and the numbers presented to make the case actually invalidate the claim instead of supporting it. If either side is right in believing that GIPSA would cost or make the industry multi-millions, even billions of dollars, it begs the question why do we spend so little?

Why wouldn’t NCBA and NPPC support candidates friendly to agriculture? And, why wouldn’t these elected officials lead the charge on agricultural issues?

Personally, I think the numbers indicate just how little we spend as an industry to support candidates. In reality, it’s amazing that we have the minimal influence we do. After all, specific unions and environmental groups spend far more than our entire industry.
Supporting candidates isn’t a bad thing any more than corporate profits are. One makes democracies work; the other keeps the economy growing. Personally, I’m far more comfortable with a candidate who received $1,000 from NCBA’s PAC than I am with one who received $10,000 from the Humane Society of the U.S., Consumer Union or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

These groups’ numbers truly show a conspiracy but one that validates the lack of influence by corporate ag, and ag in general. It certainly doesn’t show manipulation by the evils of corporate agriculture. Less concern about mythical conspiracies and more active involvement should be the lesson we take away from these numbers. Admittedly, the numbers kind of work if one ignores their context.