With all the other high-stakes races on the ballot, maybe you’re thinking it doesn’t matter who wins the secretary of agriculture race in Iowa.
Not true. It matters a lot to the Iowa Farm Bureau and its pals in corporate agribusiness. They’re apparently pumping money into the race faster than nitrate runoff rushing through a drainage tile.
According to a memo first reported by the liberal politics website Iowa Starting Line, the Iowa Farm Bureau is urging its allies to go all in for Republican Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig, who is locked in a “dead even” race with Democrat Tim Gannon. Libertarian Rick Stewart also is running.
In the memo, Don Petersen, director of government relations for the Farm Bureau, encourages contributions to a Farm Bureau-affiliated 527 group called “Iowans for Agriculture.” And unlike candidates, the group can accept direct corporate contributions. The money is paying for TV ads boosting Naig’s name ID. Cedar Rapids viewers are getting an eyeful.
It’s all legal. And the message, the Farm Bureau insists, is “positive.” I say the organization is positive it doesn’t want a secretary elected who won’t do its bidding.
“Agriculture needs stability in the Iowa Sec. of Ag position, especially with the competitive election for governor,” Petersen writes, noting a “proven advocate” is needed to “counter policy threats that may develop after the election.”
And if deep-pocketed Naig-backers are worried about messy public disclosure of their generosity, Petersen points out gifts given after Oct 17 won’t be publicly reported until after Election Day. How nifty, and shady, is that?
Now, Don, tell them what they get for playing.
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“Iowa farmers and agribusiness will benefit for years to come if a campaign is successful. True incumbents win most of the time. A one-time investment of corporate funds for this cause could return dividends for a decade or more to come,” Petersen writes.
If the secretary’s office is worth buying, it sure must be worth winning. The next secretary will be a key player in debates over water quality, livestock rules and other big issues. Naig’s positions are dependably similar to the Farm Bureau’s party line.
He heaps praise on the weak, warmed-over water quality bill backed by the bureau and approved by the Legislature, tossing more money at status quo efforts with no more accountability for results. He opposes raising the sales tax to fill the voter-backed Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which could provide a much larger, permanent source of conservation money. Gannon favors filling the fund.
Although we won’t have a list until after the election, it’s a good bet among those kicking in to boost Naig are some of the usual suspects who’ve opposed truly meaningful water quality efforts — with real bench marks, goals and timelines backed up by required monitoring — and giving locals a say on livestock confinements. There’s money to be made in fully fertilized and under-regulated Iowa. Also known as “dividends.”
But it’s also possible a far longer list of Iowans don’t like dirty water or shady corporate-funded campaigns. We’ll see on Tuesday.
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