Checkoff Reform Amendment to Farm Bill Heads to the House Floor
On Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee referred the Brat-Blumenauer Amendment No. 71 to the 2018 Farm Bill to the House floor, opening the door for a vote of the full House. U.S. Representatives Brat (R-VA) and Blumenauer (D-OR) filed the amendment to the Farm Bill on Friday. The amendment would provide much-needed government accountability and transparency for the Commodity Research and Promotion Programs (checkoffs). The bipartisan amendment would ensure the authorizing checkoff laws prevent conflicts of interest, anticompetitive activities thaat harm other commodities, and governing boards of the checkoff programs from contracting with organizations that engage in lobbying. It would also require checkoff boards to publish all budgets and disbursements of funds for the purposes of public inspection, and submit to periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General.
Over 80 farm organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers have expressed their support of this needed legislative reform.
Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) offered the following statement:
“OCM thanks Congressmen Brat and Blumenauer for co-sponsoring the amendment and the Rules Committee for its support to allow the House to vote for overdue reforms to the commodity checkoff programs. America’s family farmers deserve nothing less than the assurance that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately. Allowing trade and lobbying organizations to receive these funds and use them to advocate against the very farmers who are paying the tax must end. We call on all members of Congress to vote yes on this amendment and restore integrity to the checkoff programs.”
Checkoff programs were established to serve as mechanisms by which farmers pool money for common commodity-specific promotional and research purposes. Federal assessments are mandatory and are extracted from the farmers’ payments for their goods.
Despite this limited purpose, checkoff programs have repeatedly acted beyond the scope of their statutory mandate. Lax oversight by the USDA has resulted in collusive and illegal relationships between checkoff boards and lobbying organizations, both of which have repeatedly used checkoff funds to influence legislation and government action and for political purposes. Such advocacy efforts have an anticompetitive effect, benefiting certain producers to the detriment of others, and forcing traditional family farmers to pay into a system that actively works against them.
A series of audits and reports, including an independent audit (2010), a USDA Office of Inspector General report (2014), and a Government Accountability Office report (2017), determined that government oversight of the over $800,000,000 in checkoff funds is extremely lax and that USDA has failed to implement necessary accountability measures, yet USDA has taken few steps to stop the abuses.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a trade and lobbying organization that represents the meatpacking industry, has been the most egregious abuser of these tax dollars, receiving over 80 percent of the beef checkoff funds, with over 70 percent of the NCBA president’s half million dollar salary coming from these government payments.
–Organization for Competitive Markets