Corporate Ag Gag Supporters Donated to Iowa Legislator Campaigns

branstad_terryGov. Terry BranstadFIC mentioned previously that it wasn't much of a shocker when Governor Terry Branstad signed Iowa's Ag Gag bill into law due to his industry ties, but how many dollars are attached to those ties? A new study finds that many top legislators behind the controversial bill – which will have a chilling effect on industry whistleblowers – received major campaign contributions from agriculture groups in favor of the legislation.

The Des Moines Register reports:

The National Institute on Money in State Politics has found that almost 10 percent of the $8.9 million Gov. Terry Branstad raised in his most recent campaign came from the agriculture industry.

And almost $8,000 — more than one-fourth of all the campaign money raised in 2010 by Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport, a self-proclaimed moderate Democrat who led discussion on the bill — came from the ag sector, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group.

Although Branstad and Seng's staff claim there is no link between the campaign contributions and the bill's passing, the National Institute's managing director Denie Roth Barber says the report shows that ag groups "are working the system to make sure their interests are heard."

Senator Seng, key sponsor of the bill, said he sees the contributions only as "appreciation of what he's done in the past." But is it a stretch to assume industry sends checks to lawmakers in hopes that they'll keep serving ag interests (at the risk of derailing whistleblowers and transparency) in the future?

To say the least, the industry's message is heard loud and clear. In 2010, agriculture contributions to political candidates in Iowa totaled $2.4 million. The Iowa Corn Growers, which registered in favor of Ag Gag, was one of Seng's top contributors during his 2010 campaign, giving him $2,500. The association also gave Branstad $15,000 the same year.

Even if the governor recognizes agriculture as "the cornerstone of the state's economy," that doesn't mean he should give industry a free pass to escape accountability. It's evident that Big Ag has a powerful influence over legislation in Iowa, but lawmakers should be supporting whistleblowers, not criminalizing them, at a time when an open and honest food system is needed more than ever. 

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


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