With a new congressional battle looming over the federal dairy program, a consumer-interest organization yesterday released a study that it said showed direct links between dairy lobby campaign contributions and key votes on Capitol Hill.
The study by Public Voice for Food & Health Policy, comparing dairy lobby contributions before and after a crucial House vote in 1983, was prepared as Congress nears floor debate over dairy-support policy in a new farm bill.
Public Voice found in its review of Federal Election Commission records that the three main dairy political action committees gave House members $1.3 million in 1983-1984 and that $1.1 million of it went to legislators after they had cast a pro-dairy vote in late 1983.
While lawmakers from milk-producing districts tended to vote the industry position against a restrictive amendment by then-Rep. Barber B. Conable (R-N.Y.), the study showed that members with no dairy farms at home also got heavy campaign support after they voted against Conable.
"Our report clearly shows the connection between dairy dollars and pro-dairy votes. Some members of Congress favor cows over consumers even when their districts don't have any cows," said Ellen Haas, executive director of Public Voice.
The study reported that 111 members whose districts had no milk production voted on the Conable amendment. All but one of the 38 who received $1,000 or more in dairy contributions voted against the Conable amendment, while 51 of the 73 who got less than $1,000 voted for Conable.
Public Voices's study tracked campaign contributions by the Associated Milk Producers, Mid-America Dairymen and Dairymen Inc., cooperatives that now are opposing proposals similar to the Conable amendment. This year's dairy policy debate is shaping up along lines similar to 1983, when Conable proposed cuts in federal dairy price supports as the quickest way to reduce milk surpluses and curb the more than $1 billion per year cost of the program.
The Conable proposal was defeated, 250 to 174, and Congress went on to set up an industry-supported "diversion" program that paid farmers not to produce milk. The House Agriculture Committee has adopted a similar program in its new farm bill, while its Senate counterpart has approved an industry-opposed approach similar to Conable's.
Both versions are expected to be debated heatedly on the House and Senate floors after Congress returns from its August recess. In the case of the House, the Public Voice study said, many of the key players from 1983 are in the same power positions this time around.
The study showed that 25 House Agriculture Committee members who voted against the Conable plan got $341,000, while the 10 who voted for Conable shared $4,275. Contributions to Conable amendment opponents on the committee mushroomed after the 1983 vote, the report said.
For example, Rep. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), who helped lead opposition to Conable, got $21,500 after the vote and $6,075 before. Rep. Harold L. Volkmer (D-Mo.) got $17,800 after the vote and $4,750 before. Rep. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) received $17,500 after the vote, $3,500 before. Reps. Lane A. Evans (D-Ill.) and Timothy J. Penny (D-Minn.) each got $17,250 after the vote, compared with $3,000 and $1,500, respectively, before.
Public Voice's study found a similar pattern in contributions to members of the House Rules Committee, which helped shape floor debate on the Conable amendment.
The nine Rules Committee members who voted against Conable got $64,500 in donations, while the four who favored it got $3,700. Seven members opposing Conable had a total of $9,250 before the vote and $55,250 afterward.
Chairman Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), for example, received $5,500 after the vote and $500 before. Other top recipients were Reps. Gene Taylor (R-Mo.) and Alan D. Wheat (D-Mo.), with $10,000 and $9,000, respectively, after the vote, compared with $3,250 and $1,000 before.