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Dairy Industry Crushed Innovator Who Bested Price-Control System

A few months later, Lewis used his power to kill the Kyl-Reid measure. "Congressman Lewis did it strictly on behalf of a constituent and because he thought Hein's deal was good for consumers," said Lewis's deputy chief of staff, Jim Specht.

Hettinga said that at Lewis's request he chipped in $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign later that year. He also gave $4,000 to Lewis's campaign war chest between 2003 and 2006, records show.

But the big milk producers and dairy trade groups were already at work in Washington. Through its employees and political action committee, Dean Foods, with nearly 100 plants around the country, spent more than $600,000 on political contributions in 2005 and 2006, including $5,000 to Kyl and $3,000 to Nunes. Reid got $5,000 in 2004.

Eight groups with an interest in the legislation reported overall lobbying spending of more than $5 million in 2005 and the first half of 2006. Dean Foods reported spending almost $2.5 million, including $500,000 for outside lobbyists. One was Charles M. "Chip" English Jr. of Thelen Reid & Priest. English also represented Shamrock Foods, United Dairymen of Arizona and the Dairy Institute of California.

During 2005, English fine-tuned the language in the milk bill. "My hand can be seen throughout the bill," he said in an interview. Pick a paragraph in the legislation, he said, and "either I wrote it or I commented on it."

Among others in the lobbying effort were the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Milk Producers Federation and the Western United Dairymen. Dairy Farmers of America, with members in 47 states, mobilized a grass-roots campaign for the legislation.

At every turn, Lewis's office was "barraged by calls and faxes from dairy owners," recalled Specht, Lewis's aide. "It seemed clear that all the skids had been greased for this legislation."

An Angry Meeting

On the evening of Nov. 2, 2005, lawmakers and several dozen lobbyists squeezed into the conference room of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to seek common ground in the milk dispute. Lewis brought Hettinga and McGrath. Reid came with Anderson's Coon. Shamrock Foods' McClelland was with Kyl.

"Jerry, if it wasn't for you, we'd have taken care of this a long time ago," Reid said, according to several participants.

Lewis bridled. It seemed as if Reid was calling him a "liar," he said. If that was so, he might as well leave, he added.

Hettinga told the group how he had built his plants, arguing that the other dairy farmers "didn't pay me when I started the business, why should I start paying them when the business is successful?"

At the end, participants said, Reid was plainly exasperated. "I'm not listening to any more of this," he said. "I'm out of here."

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