As America continues with its distrust of easily swayed politicians and Citizens United remains on the books, it’s easy to understand why corporations like Monsanto always seem to get their way. But will Monsanto and Big Agribusiness lobbyists get the best of the American public and coax our Senators into passing the pending DARK Act (HR 1599) to deny GMO labeling?
The past has shown us that no matter which bill appeared on the Congress’s desk, the side that received the most money would pretty much always win.
Less than 1% of Americans, businessmen with the most money, fund 68% of all election funding, all used to lobby politicians into voting the way that ultimately benefits the moneymakers in most cases, not the well being of the people.
And we as ordinary citizens do not have the money to even be considered in this game; we are just on the sidelines watching the game unfold.
Take for example the DARK act. The mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs routinely polls at above 90% in favor, and yet the House recently voted in strongly in favor of HR1599, which would actually deny states that right and essentially makes it illegal.
Recently, LetsFreeCongress.org compiled a quick overview of money used to support or oppose big and often controversial bills like the DARK Act.
Huge discrepancies can be seen in terms of funding on these controversial issues. For example 96% of all funding went to opposing stricter gun-regulation, also 96% to oppose stricter guidelines for school lunches, and 99% to support the CISPA Cybersecurity bill. All of these issues are far more balanced than that and in the latter two cases public opinion is strongly in favor of the opposite position. Regardless of where you stand in these issues it is well worth noting that between the two arguments are hundreds of millions of dollars difference.
And no matter how many people have the opposite opinion, unless we can also vote with our pockets and fund as much as the big funders, it will not make any difference. The way the system is set up right now, money always wins. This may be playing itself out again with HR1599, but there is still hope.
The DARK Act is Coming
Now we are watching what happens to HR 1599, the anti-labeling bill, also known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, named the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act and “Monsanto Protection Act Part 2” by the opposition. The bill will prohibit the states separately to pass laws that would require GMO labeling, a right afforded in 60+ countries around the world (More than half of Europe just banned GMOs, too). The bill would overwrite existing state labeling laws in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
The bill passed the House of Representatives on July 23, 2015. The opposition is hoping it will be stopped at the Senate.
The opposition of the bill is more than 300 organizations, but the lobbying money behind the bill is huge.
“This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group.
Let’s examine what happened in the House while looking forward to what may happen in the Senate (the bill is still waiting for a co-sponsor; you can contact your Senator to let them know your opinion on HR1599 and GMO labeling by clicking here).
Who Funded Those Who Support the Bill in the House?
Who voted “yes” on the bill? – 275 representatives (230 Republicans and 45 Democrats) including those who are on the House Agriculture Committee, who also received the most funding from the agricultural services during the 2014 elections.
Crop Production and Basic Processing is the main source of funding for Representatives Collin Peterson ($293,900), Frank Lucas ($221,699) and Mike Conaway ($289,600). Agricultural Services & Products is the main funder for Kurt Schrader ($104,900), also provided $130,750 to Peterson, $129,800 to Lucas, and $118,550 to Rodney Davis. This information is instantly provided by the Greenhouse plug-in that opens a small pop-up window that shows ten biggest funders of any member of Congress.
Representatives who voted against the bill, such as John Conyers, Trent Franks and Bill Posey, received no monetary contribution from the agricultural services. You can search by name and look up their top contributors at OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics.
The full list of representatives and how they voted can be found at GovTrack.us.
One of the biggest funder in Agricultural Services? Monsanto, of course. The company that would fall into an even bigger tailspin if a law comes about that would require GMO labeling.
Monsanto Co. spent $4,120,000 on lobbying in 2014 and $2,550,000 in 2015 – all of it going to Agricultural Services & Products. In 2015 there have been 15 reported clients of Monsanto lobbying U.S. House of Representative and 17 reported for U.S. Senate.
There are 12 members who own Monsanto co-shares, according to OpenSecrets.org. Out of them nine were in position to vote and eight voted “yes” on the DARK Act: Upton, Fred (R-MI); Sensenbrenner, F James Jr (R-WI); Rooney, Tom (R-FL); Rogers, Hal (R-KY); Renacci, Jim (R-OH); Price, Tom (R-GA); McCaul, Michael (R-TX); Marchant, Kenny (R-TX). One voted in opposition: Kennedy, Joe III (D-MA).
The DARK Act “was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (which represents more than 300 pro-GMO food companies) and Monsanto Company, which has poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives,” according to Common Dreams.
The other big lobbyists for the DARK Act are the Grocery Manufacturers Association and PepsiCo Inc. The first, spent $4,080,061 in 2015 on lobbying Food Processing & Sales industry, the other $2,590,000 on Food & Beverage industry. The Full list of lobbying clients can be found at OpenSecrets.org
The Bill is Now Going to Senate
Now that the House has voted, what can we expect out of Senate? Looking at the Senate leaders:
- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee, which has received $2,613,517 in 2014 cycle from Crop Production & Basic Processing.
- Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas); Agribusiness Sector, PAC Money: $153,139
- Conference Chair John Thune (R-SD) is on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee
- Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo) – $208,192 funding from Agricultural Services & Products
- Policy Chair John A. Barrasso (R-Wyo), $18,000 in Agribusiness PAC Money
- Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), $20,500 in Agribusiness PAC Money
- Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), $76,000 in Agribusiness PAC Money
- Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.), $35,250 in Agribusiness PAC Money
- Policy Chair Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), $21,000 in Agribusiness PAC Money
Looking at a few other members, it doesn’t seem like Senators have received nearly as much funding at the House Representatives, so perhaps the DARK Act still has a chance of being stopped (contact your Senators by clicking here; hand-written letters and phone calls are especially effective).
But if GMO labeling is to be saved from the DARK Act, it will have to come through people power, since the organic food companies and organizations aren’t nearly as active on Capitol Hill as Monsanto, Pepsi Co., Coca Cola, the GMA and others.
Is there a way to fight this type of corruption?
Meanwhile, a few anti-corruption groups are thinking of ways to stop influence of money in government. Represent.Us and The American Anti-Corruption Act are working on ideas how to “put power back in the hands of the People,” and it is something worth looking into.
“[T]he problem here is that Congress [is] no longer a dependen[t] upon the people alone, increasingly dependen[t] upon the funders. Now this is a dependence too, but it’s different and conflicting from a dependence upon the people alone so long as the funders are not the people. This is a corruption,” said legal scholar Lawrence Lessig in his TED talk, “It’s a pathological, democracy-destroying corruption, because in any system where the members are dependent upon the tiniest fraction of us for their election, that means the tiniest number of us, the tiniest, tiniest number of us, can block reform… Because there is an economy here, an economy of influence, an economy with lobbyists at the center which feeds on polarization. It feeds on dysfunction.”
In the meantime, you can also do the following to help stop the DARK Act: contact your local media stations and newspapers, share articles on social media, post articles on the Facebook walls of different media outlets, email, call, or write your Senators, tell your friends and family, and donate to organic organizations who are helping to get the word out.
You can also track the bill on this site and let your friends and family know when a vote is imminent. A vote is expected sometime soon, so don’t be shy.