Beef checkoff dollars allegedly used to influence governor’s race in Ohio
Farm Groups Call on Governor Kasich to Stop the Illicit Expenditure of Farmers’ Tax Dollars on Lobbying and Electioneering
Columbus, OH – The Ohio Beef Council, a state agency of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, illegally used government property to promote a fundraiser for the Mike DeWine gubernatorial campaign. On April 6, 2018, the Ohio Beef Council used its email domain, ohiobeef.org, to circulate an invitation to a campaign fundraiser on behalf of the trade and lobbying group, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. The Ohio primary election is on May 8, 2018.
According to the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s webpage, the Ohio Beef Council is also actively engaged in soliciting campaign contributions on behalf of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Political Action Committee (PAC) through the state agency’s email domain. The state agency and the lobbying group share the same address and headquarters and the staff members of both organizations are exactly the same and carry the same job titles.
In February 2018, the Ohio Farmers Union and Organization for Competitive Markets released a briefing paper demonstrating how Ohio cattle producers’ tax dollars are being used illegally to prop up the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. State and federal law mandates that the funds, called “checkoffs,” are to be used for the research and promotion of beef, and are expressly prohibited from being used to influence policy or elections.
Today, the Ohio Farmers Union and Organization for Competitive Markets sent a letter to Governor Kasich requesting that he take immediate action to end the abuse of Ohio’s farmers’ tax dollars.
The letter requests that the Governor ensure the full and complete separation of the Ohio Beef Council and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, and stop the illicit activities being conducted by the two entities. The letter further calls on the Governor to ensure the federal and state mandated beef checkoff funds be included in future budget proposals submitted to the legislature, and that he call on the State Auditor to audit the past five years of Ohio Beef Council spending.
“This latest incident only builds upon a list of concerns about the activities of the State and Federal Beef checkoff programs. These tax dollars were intended by Congress to be used for beef promotion and research, but instead, they have often used dollars from farmers and ranchers to advocate for policies that hurt domestic producers. Based on this history of activities that violate the spirit and letter of the law, we call on the Governor to take swift action and clean up this scandal,” stated Joe Logan, President of the Ohio Farmers Union. “When it comes to our tax dollars, we should expect no less than our dollars being spent for the intended purpose they are mandated, and in the case of Ohio Beef Council’s handling of our beef checkoff assessments, unfortunately that just isn’t the case.”
In February 2018, Organization for Competitive Markets requested from Ohio Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture the annual audit and reporting documents Ohio Beef Council is mandated by law to file, and as of the date of this release, neither department has responded. On March 9, 2018, Ohio Farmers Union sent a request to the Ohio State Auditor requesting that he conduct a state audit of Ohio Beef Council funds, and as of the date of this release the Auditor has not responded. Ohio Farmers Union made the same request of the Auditor in June 2016, but the request was denied.
“When something smells this bad, it usually means there is something rotten going on. Ohio family farmers deserve better from their government. We are hopeful that Governor Kasich will take the necessary steps to clean up this mess,” stated Joe Maxwell, Executive Director of Organization for Competitive Markets.
The Ohio state legislature in Chapter 924 of the Ohio Revised Code authorized the creation of the Agricultural Marketing Programs. Through that authorization the Ohio Director of Agriculture (ODA) appoints the board to the Ohio Beef Council. The Ohio Beef Council is the state and federal governments’ recognized state agency responsible for the collection of both the state and federal beef checkoff tax assessments. It collects a dollar per head of cattle for both the state and the federal beef checkoff programs.
In various government matters, the ODA speaks on behalf of the Commodity Marketing Program Committee, including the Ohio Beef Council. As one example, on March 8, 2016, ODA Deputy Director Janelle Mead testified before the Ohio Sunset Review Committee on the Ohio Beef Council’s behalf, specifically naming Ohio Beef Council as an ODA board. Further, the Ohio Attorney General, along with 32 other states Attorneys General, joined in filing an Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court case, Johanns v. Livestock Mktg. Ass’n, 544 U.S. 550, 562 (2005). In reference to the State Beef Councils, for which the Ohio Beef Council is one, on page nine of their brief, they stated “…the councils function as governmental agencies in disseminating that message.”
–Organization for Competitive Markets