Corporate Ag Watch: Agrichemical Company Influence in Oregon – Part I

In the last edition of our Corporate Ag Watch blog, we highlighted the plight of Oregon’s small farms in relation to the growth of Big Ag in our state, noting the problematic influence that unlimited corporate money in Oregon politics is having. We dove into the political and lobbying activities of out-of-state owned Threemile Canyon Farms, one of Oregon’s largest corporate agricultural operations.

We got a lot of feedback on that post, as many were surprised to learn about Oregon’s ‘no limits’ campaign finance system, and that we live in a state where large corporations with deep pockets are able to have such a tremendous amount of influence over the political and legislative decision-making process in our state.

In this edition of Corporate Ag Watch we’re going to take a look at the influence that one of the world’s largest multinational agrichemical companies is having here in Oregon: Monsanto. Pesticide maker and biotech crop developer Monsanto is based in Missouri, not Oregon, but they have invested a lot of money here – often through innocuous sounding front groups – to ensure their interests are represented in debates on the regulation of pesticides and genetically engineered crops.

Monsanto

According to publicly available state campaign finance reports, Monsanto has spent nearly $6.4 million on Oregon political campaigns over the past decade. Much of this money – $5.95 million – was spent in 2014 to oppose Ballot Measure 92. Measure 92 was a consumer right-to-know citizen initiative that would have required the labeling of genetically engineered food on store shelves. It ultimately lost by 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast.

The second biggest beneficiary of Monsanto political money in our state is the Oregon Farm Bureau Political Action Committee (PAC). The Oregon Farm Bureau PAC has received $133,500 from Monsanto over the past decade, often raised during an annual fundraising golf tournament that the Oregon Farm Bureau uses to raise money for its political activities. The tournament prominently sponsored by Monsanto for many years.

Other major recipients of Monsanto political funds in Oregon include the Oregonians for Food and Shelter PAC ($24,500) and FirstVote PAC ($48,500), which is directed by the staff of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. Oregonians for Food and Shelter is a pesticide advocacy group whose Board of Directors includes representatives of Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont, in addition to the Oregon Farm Bureau and a number of large timber companies.

Monsanto has also given a combined $23,500 to two ‘Leadership’ PACs that support Republican candidates for the Oregon Senate and House.

More recently, Monsanto has begun giving to Political Action Committees for candidates directly, but over the years has primarily given to PACs like those controlled by the Oregon Farm Bureau, FirstVote and Oregonians for Food and Shelter. Those groups in turn give directly to candidates’ PACs.

If this all seems confusing, that may be by design. The tangled and sometimes confusing web of Political Action Committees that allow multinational biotech companies to support Oregon political candidates of their liking was covered by the Oregonian in 2013, “GMO companies contribute to lobby groups in Oregon Legislature.”

The innocuous sounding FirstVote PAC seems to be a primary vehicle for big companies to indirectly give to political candidates in Oregon. FirstVote PAC, which many in Oregon have likely never heard of, doesn’t even sound like it works on agricultural issues. Yet it supports many candidates with the money it receives from multinational agribusiness companies.

In addition to receiving $48,500 from Monsanto over the past ten years, FirstVote PAC has also taken $38,000 from Syngenta, another multinational biotech company, $8500 from Dow AgroSciences, and $5000 from DuPont.

As noted above, FirstVote PAC and the Oregon Farm Bureau PAC are two major vehicles that multinational agrichemical companies use as they seek to influence policy and politics in Oregon. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Corporate Ag Watch as we delve deeper into the influence of the agrichemical industry in Oregon.

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