It's Not Just Peanuts for Pat Roberts It's Sugar and Cotton and...
By Dwight L. Morris
Rep. Pat Roberts has never been shy about taking money from PACs. As the Kansas Republican's seniority has grown, so has his dependence upon their kindness. Upon becoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in 1995, agriculture PACs really opened their checkbooks.
In his first reelection bid, in 1982, Roberts raised a relatively modest $76,086 from PACs, accounting for 41 percent of the $184,218 he raised. By 1990, his PAC donations had climbed to $132,250 59 percent of his total receipts. For his seventh reelection bid in 1994, a race he won with 77 percent of the vote, Roberts' PAC receipts reached $220,637, or 70 percent of the money he raised.
In January, 1995, Roberts became chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, where he had toiled in the minority for fourteen years. With the farm bill slated for reauthorization and Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum openly flirting with retirement (which she formally announced on November 20, 1995), Roberts was perfectly positioned and highly motivated to cash in on his newfound power. Plenty of PAC directors were more than willing to help.
Over the next twelve months, Roberts raised $446,041 for what has become his Senate bid, including $297,622 from PACs. A hefty 61 percent of Roberts' PAC donations $180,530 came from organizations with a direct interest in the farm bill.
Moving to protect their beloved but controversial peanut price support payments, the Southwest Peanut PAC donated $1,000 to Roberts on May 1, 1995. Four days later the group pumped another $4,000 into his coffers. The Georgia Peanut Producers Association weighed in with $2,000 on May 12 and another $3,000 on August 2. The Peanut PAC of Alabama and the Western Peanut Growers came through with $2,000 checks on May 15 and July 24, respectively. In the hopes that he might consider their proposals to reduce the peanut subsidies and transform them from an entitlement into more of a safety net, the American Peanut Shellers Association gave Roberts $1,000 on May 5.
Concerned that Congress might reduce or even eliminate federal price supports for sugar, the Florida Sugar Cane League donated $1,000 to Roberts on April 6. The American Sugarbeet Growers fired off a $1,000 check on April 6 and another $1,000 check on May 1. Roberts collected $500 from the American Crystal Sugar PAC on May 1 and another $1,000 from the group less than three weeks later. On May 5, the American Sugar Cane League, the Southern Minnesota Sugar Cooperative, and the Flo-Sun Sugar PACs each gave him $1,000. The American Sugar Cane League came through with another $1,000 on June 21. Between April 6 and June 30, the Hawn Sugar, Michigan Sugar Company, and Great Lakes Sugarbeet Growers PACs each delivered checks for $500.
While midwestern dairy farmers disagreed with their western and southern counterparts over the precise shape of the perfect subsidy program, the dairy industry was pushing hard for continued supports in some form. During 1995, the Mid-America Dairymen's PAC gave Roberts $5,000. The Associated Milk Producers and the Ice Cream, Milk, and Cheese PAC each weighed in with $4,000.
Apparently unmoved by this generosity, on August 4, Roberts released details of his "Freedom to Farm" bill, which did not include continued price support payments for peanuts, sugar, or dairy products. However, in mid-September, under fire from western and southern Representatives who were also hearing regularly from disgruntled farmers and core contributors, Roberts agreed to restore somewhat modified sugar and peanut subsidies.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that move also triggered another round of contributions from the interested parties.
On September 21, the American Sugarbeet Growers fired off a $1,000 donation. Four days later, the American Peanut Sheller's and the Southern Minnesota Sugar Cooperative donated $3,000 and $1,000, respectively. Between October 4 and November 13, the Flo-Sun Sugar, American Crystal Sugar, and American Sugar Cane League PACs each coughed up $1,000.
Augmenting donations by the sugar PACs, individual executives also joined the money parade during 1995. Jose F. Fanjul, president of Flo-Sun Sugar donated $1,000, as did Edward Makin, president of Domino Sugar. Nicholas Kominus, president of United States Cane Sugar, gave $2,000.
Worried over the impact that any new legislation would have on the commodities markets, the Auction Market PAC of the Chicago Board of Trade expressed their concern with contributions to Roberts totaling $7,500. He raked in $5,000 from the Commodity Futures Political Fund and $2,000 from the Futures Industry PAC. Thomas R. Donovan, CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade, and Patrick H. Arbor, Chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade, each donated $1,000.
The new farm bill will decide, at least temporarily, the fate of subsidies paid to cotton growers, and on June 16, the California Cotton Growers PAC made a $4,730 in-kind donation to cover the cost of renting an airplane for Roberts. The Committee for the Advancement of Cotton sent $3,000.
While very little cotton is grown in Kansas, Roberts' proposed Freedom to Farm Act treats cotton growers very well. The Environmental Working Group, which has studied both past farm subsidy payments and the impact of the current proposals on future payments, estimates that the top 2 percent of cotton growers would collect roughly $1.1 billion over the next seven years an average of $60,000 per year for each of the biggest producers. To get that money, the growers would not have to plant a single cotton seed during the seven-year authorization peered.
Agribusiness giants ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland contributed $5,000 and $2,000, respectively. The American Meat Institute, Pork PAC, and the Sunkist Growers each donated $3,000.
Crop insurers, poultry magnates and grocers also felt the need to get Roberts' attention. The American Association of Crop Insurance PAC donated $3,000; the Rain and Hail Insurance Society contributed $1,500. Don Tyson, CEO of Tyson Foods, gave $1,000, as did Richard Bell, president and CEO of Richland Foods.
In all, PACs and individual donors representing agriculture interests poured $224,030 into Roberts campaign treasury during 1995, accounting for 50 percent of the money he raised in a year when he did not have to face the voters. This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.
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